Football

Marquez leads Mexico into last-16 clash with Holland

Veteran captain Marquez inspires Mexicans to qualify for knockout stage

GROUP A

CROATIA 1

(Ivan Perisic 87)

MEXICO 3

(Rafael Marquez 72, Andres Guardado 75, Javier Hernandez 82)

Mexico will meet Holland in the last 16 of the World Cup, after veteran captain Rafael Marquez helped steer them to a 3-1 win and eliminate 10-man Croatia this morning (Singapore time).

Mexico needed just to avoid defeat in Recife to take their place in the knockout phase, and three goals in 10 second-half minutes killed off Croatia's hopes.

The Mexicans needed more than an hour to break the deadlock at the Arena Pernambuco.

The 35-year-old Marquez, captaining his country at a record-fourth Finals, scored with a header on 72 minutes before Andres Guardado grabbed Mexico's second.

Substitute Javier Hernandez then netted their third in quick succession to book their showdown with the Dutch in Fortaleza this Sunday.

"That is one of the happiest days of my life," beamed Mexico coach Miguel Herrera.

"It was a hard fight, but my team pulled through."

Ivan Perisic grabbed a late consolation goal for the Croats before replacement forward Ante Rebic was sent off, just before the final whistle.

Croatia, who lost their opening game 3-1 to Brazil but trounced Cameroon 4-0, ended up third in Group A. Mexico finished second in the group to Brazil on goal difference.

"We kept the game open for a long time, but two corners decided the game," said Croatia coach Niko Kovac.

"We weren't bad, but the opponents were better today."

Kovac had recalled defender Sime Vrsaljko for Croatia, with left back Danijel Pranjic pushed up into midfield, but it was a move that didn't pay off.

The Mexicans were unchanged from the side that held hosts Brazil to a goalless draw on Wednesday, thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Mexico coach Herrera opted to again leave Hernandez out of his starting line-up, but the Manchester United star scored after coming on for the final 25 minutes.

The Mexicans had the best of the opening exchanges when Hector Herrera's long-range shot beat Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, but thundered off the crossbar on 16 minutes.

SOLID

Croatia fired in numerous crosses, but Mexico goalkeeper Ochoa was again solid between the posts.

After a goalless first half, the Mexicans got the breakthrough when Herrera's corner was powered home, after Marquez out jumped the defence on 72 minutes.

Croatia threw everyone forward to find an equaliser, but left spaces at the back which Mexico exploited for their second goal just three minutes later. Valencia's Guardado finished off a lightning counter-attack on 75 minutes to leave Croatia on the ropes.

Mexico then grabbed their third when another Herrera corner was flicked on by Hector Moreno for Hernandez, who nodded home at the back post on 82 minutes.

Perisic grabbed a late goal for Croatia when he converted Ivan Rakitic's final pass, just before Rebic was shown a straight red for taking out Carlos Pena a minute from time. - AFP.

World Cup