1600 BST, Saturday 23 June, Rostov Arena (Rostov-on-Don)
North American nation Mexico look to secure their customary progress to the last-16 of the World Cup on Saturday as they face South Korea in Rostov-on-Don.
The Mexicans have provided one of the biggest upsets of the tournament when they beat holders Germany in an entertaining encounter in Moscow on Sunday by a goal to nil. Hot prospect Hirving Lozano netted a deserved winner, but Juan Carlos Osorio’s side could – and should – have won by a more comfortable scoreline, though the result will more than suffice.
Read more analysis on Mexico’s shock victory HERE.
The victory puts El Tri in a very strong position to emerge from the group with the two weaker sides still to come.
For South Korea, the picture is bleaker. Losing to Sweden would not have been in the plans pre-tournament, though the Scandinavians deserved the 1-0 win. With a final day showdown against Germany lying in wait after this encounter with a buoyant Mexico, the chances of the Asian side progressing will be slim.
If Shin Tae-yong’s men are to avoid catching an early flight back to Seoul, then a win on Saturday is paramount.
Last Time Out
Sweden 1-0 South Korea
Having been drawn in Group F alongside Germany and Mexico, both South Korea and Sweden would have acknowledged how crucial the opening fixture would be, in terms of avoiding defeat.
A tense, nervy encounter that wasn’t short on chances (for the Swedes, at least) was played out in Nizhny Novgorod, with a VAR-awarded Andreas Granqvist penalty the difference.
Both sides started cautiously, almost all too aware of the importance of having the pendulum swing in their favour. A string of saves from Korean goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo kept the scores level at the break, with Sweden feeling as though they should have gone in ahead.
Read five things we learned from South Korea’s defeat HERE.
Mid-way through the second half the pressure told as Kim Min-woo brought down Viktor Claesson, with the video assistant confirming the contact. Sweden held on comfortably after taking the lead from the spot and will take great confidence into their remaining fixtures.
Germany 0-1 Mexico
Mexico pulled off a big early shock by beating holders Germany 1-0 in Moscow.
Osorio’s side played with confidence and without fear against a lethargic, lacklustre Germany that many expected to stroll through the early stages of this tournament.
Both sides knew of the importance of starting brightly and the potential rewards that an early win could bring, and El Tri took full advantage of a chance that few predicted would come.
Hirving Lozano eventually put the Mexicans ahead after a string of chances that came and went after hesitant play in front of goal. It looked as though another would go begging as Lozano opted to turn inside Mesut Ozil instead of shooting, but his low drive beat Manuel Neuer at his near post.
Germany came out stronger in the second period though their slow build-up play gave Mexico little to worry about, though Guillermo Ochoa was on form when called upon, making a total of nine saves.
South Korea Lineup
Shin Tae-yong has no injury concerns and may field the same XI that started the defeat against Sweden.
Jung Woo-young may hope to get a start up front after coming on for the lacklustre Kim Shin-wook, whose service was admittedly limited.
The South Koreans will hope to get more from Tottenham Hotspur star man Son Heung-min who was non-existent for much of Monday’s clash.
Mexico’s performance on Sunday will give Juan Carlos Osorio the luxury of feeling as though nothing needs changing.
Giovani dos Santos was left on the bench for the first clash and didn’t feature at all and he’ll hope to see the pitch this time around.
Héctor Herrera could make way, allowing Miguel Layun to play a more central role to accommodate dos Santos.
Key Battle: Son Heung-min (South Korea) vs Hirving Lozano (Mexico)
While these two may not directly oppose each other on the pitch, their ability to impact their sides’ play will be the key to this game.
Lozano will have a burning fire in his belly after scoring the vital goal against the Germans and with his confidence sky-high, his game may reach another level, which will take some stopping.
Against Die Mannschaft, Lozano was fantastic, using his pace in behind Joshua Kimmich to disrupt and destabilise the German defence.
He was a nuisance all game and will attempt to do the same against South Korea, with Mexico particularly looking to him to create problems.
Son had a frustrating afternoon against the Swedes and his only memorable moment came in the first half when he got the chance to use his pace to great effect on a run down the right wing.
KEY STAT: Son failed to have a shot against Sweden.
If South Korea are to get anything from this tournament, they’ll need their talisman to perform to his best.
Eyes on the prize
A win on Saturday will put the Mexicans in pole position to top the group, and thus potentially avoid a last-16 tie with Brazil. Few would have predicted anything but a German success in Group F, but the opening day results have thrown lots of permutations into the air.
El Tri will look back on Sunday’s game with joy, but also with resentment at their wastefulness – the scoreline should have looked more impressive.
Irrespective, they now head into this game knowing that even a draw would suffice in terms of their potential qualification.
It takes the pressure of slightly and allows them to play a more relaxed game, though a win would seal the deal and that will be the minimum expectation.
Early flight home for South Korea?
A defeat in Rostov will all-but-end the chances of the Asian side escaping from a tough group. If Germany were to beat Sweden, the Koreans would then have to beat Germany on the final day, and hope that Mexico heavily beat Sweden, otherwise their journey is over.
First, they must tackle a Mexico team that are brimming with confidence after claiming arguably the biggest win of the World Cup so far.
However, there was nothing positive about this South Korea team. Their source of inspiration was Son – who failed to muster a shot against Sweden – and it seems as though they’re relying too heavily on him. With little quality elsewhere in the side, it’s not the best of plans.
Prediction: South Korea 0-2 Mexico
Off the back of the opening day results and performances, these two sides are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
South Korea barely mustered a threat on the Swedish goal, whilst the Mexicans could have hit four or five past the reigning world champions.
Germany had their chances in Moscow and the El Tri defended stoutly, and the South Koreans’ lack of creativity won’t strike fear into Ochoa or the defence. To get anything from the game, therefore, Shin Tae-yong’s side will have to utilise their pace.
Mexico will be too strong for the confidence-hit Asian nation however, and should almost guarantee their spot in the knockout stages. 0-2.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 7 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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