Mexico returned to their solid level of play, getting a 3-0 win over South Africa to book their ticket to the quarterfinals of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. It was a tough game but Mexico was the better team and got the job done, although because of Japan’s crushing victory they are going through as the second place team. Mexico will now have a very tough matchup against South Korea, who got to the quarterfinals after crushing Honduras by a 6-0 score. Still for now, it’s a celebration for the team after returning to the knockout stages for the first time after winning the Gold Medal in 2012.
The first half started with the surprise that Diego Lainez was benched for Uriel Antuna. The other changes to the lineup were Jesus Alberto Angulo taking the place of the suspended Johan Vasquez and Vladimir Loroña keeping his place as injured Erick Aguirre’s replacement. Mexico got a strong foul to Henry Martin early on, but he would remain in the game. The game started very even and Mexico looked a little nervous, giving balls away that led to counters. After a good run, Mexico got the ball in the area and Martin had a good chance but his shot was blocked by a defender. Then off a great pass by Martin found Uriel Antuna who then made a cross into the area for a wide open Alexis Vega, who got a shot off past South Africa’s goalkeeper Ronwen Williams for the 1-0 lead. Another tough foul from South Africa look to have hurt Carlos Rodriguez but he remained in the match. South Africa showed they were going to be a physical side. Later after Martin got the ball in the area, he left a pass that Antuna turned into a shot, but Williams was able to easily make the save. Later Mexico lost the ball on the counter, but the play was stopped after two Mexican players fell because of fouls. Mexico came very close to scoring again when Luis Romo got a header and hit the post; the ball then proceeded to bounce right to Alexis Vega but his volley was brilliantly saved by Williams. After another clash, Loroña had to leave the match to get treatment for a possible head injury. Then off a corner kick, the ball was terribly cleared by Williams, who punched the ball and allowed Mexico to head it to the area. A mistake by the South Africa defense allowed Luis Romo to get the ball, and his shot was deflected by Williams for the 2-0 lead. Mexico held the score and took a well deserved 2-0 lead to the locker room at halftime.
The second half started with Mexico knowing that Japan had a 2-0 lead that gave them more leeway. Mexico made a great play with a three-on-two that almost turned into an own goal when Antuna’s cross was deflected by a South African defender. Once again Henry Martin got brought down by a harsh foul and looked hurt. The referee went to VAR to check the foul and decided to give a red card to Tercious Malepe, leaving South Africa with 10 players on the field. Mexico took advantage almost immediately with a great combination play between Henry Martin and Carlos Rodriguez, where Rodriguez one time passed the ball to get Martin into the area, and he got a shot past Williams for the 3-0 lead. Mexico was cruising and then in an instant, things changed. Carlos Rodriguez did an incredible play when Mexico lost the ball and he tripped the South African attacker, getting a red card and not only leaving Mexico with 10 players but also getting suspended for the possible quarterfinal match. Mexico came close to scoring again with a shot from outside the area by Romo that went just wide. Mexico made their first moves by subbing out Sebastian Cordova and Jorge Sanchez for Joaquin Esquivel and Adrian Mora. Later Mexico subbed out Henry Martin for Eduardo Aguirre. Mexico then made their final moves by subbing out Alexis Vega and Uriel Antuna for Jesus Ricardo Angulo and inexplicably Diego Lainez. The Lainez thing was incredible, with a result all but set up and with South African players making harsh fouls. Mexico made a great combination play in which Angulo made a pass and his cross would have been finished by Lainez but a South African defender was able to clear the ball from the area. South Africa came close with a shot by Luther Singh from a free kick but it went wide. In Injury time, Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had to make their first save of the game off a shot from a South African attacker. Mexico wasted a good counter attack when Angulo made a pass to Aguirre instead of Lainez, who made a good run. Aguirre got a shot but it was blocked. Mexico would get the deserved win after another great performance and got their ticket to the quarterfinals.
After failing to get out of the group stages in the 2016 Olympics, Mexico returns to the quarterfinals with a strong victory over South Africa. In what was a tough group, Mexico came in second place and with strong victories over a disappointing France and a spirited South Africa. Still, Mexico will have a very tough matchup against South Korea, who just crushed Honduras and whose style gives Mexico troubles. Even when Mexico won the Olympic gold, they failed to defeat South Korea, getting a scoreless tie in their opening game. Then in 2016, South Korea defeated Mexico by a 1-0 score and eliminated Mexico from the tournament, as both went into the game with four points. South Korea have gotten two crushing victories but in both games, their rivals went down to 10 players. Coach Jaime Lozano has his work cut out for himself but so far he had done a good job as Mexico was the better team against South Africa but will need to look back on their defeat against Japan. They will need to do so without Carlos Rodriguez who will be suspended, although they get the return of Johan Vasquez after his suspension. Mexico will need all the help they can get but so far, it’s been a very positive tournament for Mexico.