Mexico is on to the final 16 for a seventh straight World Cup, and goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa says the team should be recognized for how it got there, not for the fact that it almost tripped on its way through the door.
“We are in the next round, thanks to the first two games and to the six points we got,” said Ochoa, whose team beat Germany and South Korea before getting blown out 3-0 by Sweden in the group-play finale on Wednesday, nearly ending its tournament.
“We deserve the credit. We don’t like [Wednesday’s] result, but we have a very important game next.”
But first, South Korea also deserves some credit since its stunning 2-0 win over Germany, the defending World Cup champion, saved Mexico’s place in the next round.
Germany came in to the World Cup ranked No. 1 in the world; South Korea is No. 57. Germany had everything to play for Wednesday, basically needing only a goal to advance. South Korea had only the narrowest of paths through, needing a win and a Mexico victory over Sweden to advance.
And when South Korea scored twice in extra time, its players thought they had done it. But while they came through for Mexico, El Tri had let the Koreans down; by losing to Sweden it had shut South Korea out.
“It was only after the game that we knew the score," South Korea goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo said. "We were really disappointed, that's why a lot of us cried."
South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong said his team has reason to celebrate despite the tears and disappointment.
"We're not going to the last 16, but we did manage to beat the champions and the world’s No. 1 team," Shin said. "I hope we can manage to improve and do better in the future."
For Mexico, Wednesday’s wacky series of events could prove costly as well.
By losing to Sweden, Mexico fell to second place in Group F, meaning it must face Brazil on Monday in the round of 16. If it had managed at least a draw, Mexico’s first elimination game would have come against less-formidable Switzerland.
For Miguel Layun, the opponent really doesn’t matter much as this point.
“After here, any team is going to have a very high level of play,” Miguel Layun said. “World football is very even. There are no big differences.”
Doing it on their own
Mexico’s Edson Alvarez also left the field in tears Wednesday but for completely different reasons after his 74th-minute own-goal gave Sweden its final margin of victory.
And, though the 20-year-old defender was no doubt smiling minutes later when he learned Mexico advanced anyway, he probably wasn’t happy that his play had earned him a place in World Cup history: His own-goal was the seventh in this year's tournament, most ever for one World Cup.
Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer made it eight later Wednesday when Bryan Ruiz's penalty kick hit the crossbar and ricocheted off the back of Sommer’s head and into the net on Thursday, Tunisia’s Yassine Meriah upped the record to nine against Panama — and there are still 16 games to play.
Choosing family over football
Iran’s Sardar Azmoun said Thursday that he's retiring from the national team after becoming the target of numerous attacks on social media for failing to score in any of Iran's three group matches in Russia.
He was sent obscene messages and mocked for his perceived lack of impact. Azmoun said his mother had been recovering from a serious illness, but the insults caused it to flare up again. Between football and his mother, he wrote on Instagram that "I chose my mother."