Mexico threatened to throw their good work in the tournament so far away with a humbling 3-0 defeat at the hands of Sweden but both sides qualified for the Round of 16 thanks to Germany’s shock defeat to South Korea.
Ludwig Augustinsson and Andreas Granqvist scored before an own goal from Edson Alvarez to ensure that the Swedes ended up topping the group, with the two sides finishing level on six points ahead of Germany and South Korea on three apiece.
It was a stunning conclusion to Group F – but what did we learn from the game?
1 Mexico may hope for difficult fixtures
Mexico immediately pencilled themselves in as dark horses with their excellent win over Germany at the beginning of the tournament but their abject performance against Sweden underlined their reliance on counter-attacks – which could leave them hoping for a more difficult-looking draw in the knockout round.
At the time of writing all three of Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia could lie in wait in the next round, with the qualifiers from Groups G and H then fighting it out to face them in the quarter-finals.
While they look a team that should be capable of breaking down a packed defence, Mexico clearly prosper when playing the role of underdogs – and would fancy themselves against any of the heavyweights they come up against.
2 Defenders pray for card-shy referees
Mexico’s Jesus Gallardo set a new World Cup record after clattering into Ola Toivonen and earning himself a booking after only 15 seconds – the fastest yellow card the tournament has ever seen.
When Sweden’s Seb Larsson was booked 25 minutes later, it was a stark reminder of the disciplinary tightrope players are walking in the tournament, where two yellow cards across five games could realistically see a player miss a semi-final. Larsson and Hector Moreno both picked up their second cards of the tournament in the game.
Referees have been noticeably card-shy in the tournament so far, and defenders will hope to see that continue in the latter stages lest they miss potentially the biggest game of their careers.
3 World Cup lover Ochoa impresses again
Guillermo Ochoa produced some memorable performances in the 2014 World Cup, and he looked on fine form once again as Sweden dominated proceedings throughout the game.
At around six feet, Ochoa is on the smaller side for a goalkeeper but his alertness and agility mean that what he lacks in presence, he makes up for in sheer shot-stopping.
Mexico hadn’t expected to find themselves under the cosh in the first half but a couple of saves from Ochoa kept them in the but he was powerless in the second period as the Swedes again overwhelmed his defensive lines.
Some players simply come alive in certain tournaments; Mexico are fortunate that their goalkeeper is a man for the big occasions.
4 No Zlatan, no problem
For all the fanfare he may have attempted to generate around himself prior to the tournament, there has been little suggestion that Sweden have missed MLS’s eleventh-top scorer in this tournament.
The 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic said prior to the tournament that the World Cup would be worse off without him, but Sweden’s attacking players showed enough to explain why manager Janne Andersen felt he could do without him.
The hard work and movement of forwards Toivonen and Marcus Berg wouldn’t have been matched by the languid figure of Ibrahimovic while they threatened regularly from set pieces even without his considerable presence in the penalty area.
Andersen sacrificed his star name for the good of the team, and it looks to have been the correct decision.
5 Group Stage continues to deliver
With Argentina’s late salvation, last-minute drama in Spain and Portugal’s group and Germany’s disappearance, the third round of games has provided some incredibly dramatic moments of World Cup football.
Sweden and Mexico’s progression makes for an interesting blend of pre-tournament favourites, underdogs, and the token dark horses, which should ensure that the entertainment continues into the round of 16.
It should also serve as a helpful reminder against complacency for an England team sure to come up against a team from the group which on paper had looked the weakest prior to the tournament.
If a shock like this can happen to Germany, it can happen to anyone.
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