Mexico came from behind with goals from Raúl Jiménez and Oribe Peralta to knock New Zealand out of the FIFA Confederations Cup, in a game that ended in farcical circumstances after a melee was assessed by the video assistant referees.
The tournament underdogs had taken advantage of an uncertain performance from the Mexicans in the first half, with Chris Wood giving them the lead just before the break.
Mexico were much improved afterwards though, with the two goals, both created by Javier Aquino, putting them level on points with Portugal at the top of Group A with one game remaining.
Eight changes for El Tri
Mexico salvaged a late draw against Portugal in their first match on Sunday thanks to Héctor Moreno’s stoppage time equaliser, however, perhaps taking New Zealand for granted, they made eight changes here. Carlos Salcedo, Diego Reyes and Jiménez were the only three to keep their places in the starting lineup.
As for New Zealand, after a 2-0 defeat in the opening game to hosts Russia, they made just the two alterations. Kip Colvey and Kosta Barbarouses made way for 18-year-old Dane Ingham and Clayton Lewis. With Portugal to come, they realistically needed a win to have any chances of a surprise appearance in the semi-finals.
Wood strike stuns hesitant Mexicans
The much-changed Mexicans looked a little uncertain early on as they struggled to counter the Kiwis’ physical style. After around 15 minutes they did get into gear, with Giovani dos Santos coming closest. His own man, Peralta, was a bit too close as he tried and failed to head Aquino’s cross on target.
New Zealand were a threat though, with Salcedo just winning the ball ahead of Tommy Smith early on. Smith though did then have an excellent headed chance from a corner. Alfredo Talavera jumped high though to make the save above his head.
There was a little bit of controversy when Talavera had to save a chance from nowhere from Wood. A few seconds earlier Wood had collided with Salcedo, with the Mexican defender still down when the ball came back into the box. Their bench was fuming that New Zealand hadn’t put the ball out, even though they had ample chance to do so themselves. In the end, Salcedo was stretched off the pitch with a shoulder problem.
Wood became more and more of a threat as the half wore on. He couldn’t quite find his range when found by an excellent ball from Michael McGlinchey, but when Néstor Araujo gave the ball away to Lewis, who pinged it straight to Wood, the Leeds United striker made no mistake to give his national team the lead. He even had a couple more chances to score again before the break, but Mexico survived.
Aquino magic helps spare Mexico embarrassment
Juan Carlos Osorio opted to bring on Hectór Herrera at the break, rather than Javier Hernández, but Mexico came out much brighter for the second half. They had a superb double chance when Aquino’s shot was saved before dos Santos shot over. Wood was still a danger at the other end, and soon after he got behind a napping Reyes but Talavera came low to stop his shot.
As well as scoring he had missed a few good opportunities, and he would be regretting that when Mexico levelled a minute later. Aquino did the hard work on the left, allowing Marco Fabián to set up Jiménez to score with a fierce strike past Stefan Marinovic.
They had a few more chances after the goal, but it was not until there were just under 20 minutes left that they took the lead. Aqunio was the creator once more, again charging down the left and outpacing the youngster Ingham. He crossed into Peralta, who did the rest.
Jürgen Damm had a chance to make the win secure a few minutes later, but his superb run into the box wasn’t matched by the finish, which went well over. Ryan Thomas came unbearably close to equalising at the other end, with his curling shot hitting the corner of the woodwork.
Mexico, with Jiménez, countered, but Damm’s shot was saved by Marinovic, before Jiménez had a shot cleared off the line by Smith at the start of stoppage time.
VAR leads to confusing finish
The game though ended in perplexing circumstances. A shirt pull by Reyes on Michael Boxall, followed by Boxall lunging in on Herrera, resulted in a massive melee.
VAR has been the major talking point of this tournament, and this incident meant that this game wouldn't escape without it being brought into scrutiny again.
Almost after the event, the referee consulted with his video assistants, and also had a look at the footage himself on the sideline, resulting in Herrera being booked for his part in the chaos. Fabián was perhaps lucky not to get a card for rushing on and striking Deklan Wynne, and further players could have been punished as well.
Reyes and Boxall were then booked after the free-kick was initially taken, leaving all watching a little confounded. In the grand scheme of things though, it made little difference as Mexico held on to victory.