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Mexico vs Sweden
2018 FIFA World Cup, Group F
|Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg, Russia|
|3||Shots on target||5|
The indomitable Mexico can seize a chance to top the group against Sweden in Yekateringburg. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match starting at 12am (AEST).
Despite Mexico’s fantastic early form, this group is wide open and both teama can technically go through or drop out.
It seems improbable, but with a Swedish victory and some advanced calculus, the Mexicans miss out entirely.
However, they have been near flawless in the tournament so far. It’s two wins from two games for Mexico, including an opening day victory over Germany where they not only defeated their kingpin opponent but exposed the roadmap for other teams to do so.
Sweden were so nearly the beneficiaries of the German frailties exposed by Mexico, but found a way to lose after taking an early lead.
Toni Kroos’ coup de grace free kick will live long in their nightmares, while the non-penalty/red card for Boateng in the first half will also haunt them.
Sweden has three points from two, and will be deeply aggrieved not to have four or six after comfortably defeating South Korea.
Mexico has only won their opening two games once – in 2002 – when their golden generation (including Rafa Marquez) looked destined for greatness before being dumped by the USA in the Round of 16.
16 years on and Marquez, now 39, is still in the squad as it’s wise man, but around him breakaway talents like “Chucky” Lozano are melding with the regular stars Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela to absorb teams and then punish them on the break.
Sweden, like Mexico, is compact in defence and like most Scandy teams favours the 4-4-2, with two narrow lines in defence and midfield.
Where they differ from the Mexicans is in their general lack of pace up front.
Emil Forsberg tucks in from the left and has the tear away speed and control to break down Mexico. But he is joined up ahead by Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen, both career role players on the wrong side of 30. Despite scoring against Germany, Berg and Toivonen don’t take games by the throat and will need to find an extra level to really take the game to Mexico in open play.
With their defensive posture and organisation, Mexico will likely find Sweden their toughest challenge. The stubborn Swedes are less likely to provide Mexico with walk-in chances.
Sweden’s modus operandi will be to control the space in the middle third to not allow the lightning interplay and releases from Mexico’s front four Javier Hernandez has been brilliant so far in his “9.5” role – drifting between the lines to collect and release to teammate s. He has exposed a facet of this game that we has never been encouraged to play in the Premier League, putting egg on the faces of a few pre-tournament pundits in the process.
History might be against Mexico making a long run in this tournament, but their current form and breakaway counter-attacking speed puts them on track to exorcise the ghosts of tournaments past. Their biggest threat in this game is complacency.
Mexico only needs a draw to top the group and may play for that and risk switching off. The Swedes are an industrious team and stealing a goal from a set-piece is possible – if not probable – if Mexico don’t bring their usual intensity from the first minute.
This is an intensely difficult game to predict. An early goal for Sweden would blow it wide open and we could see a high scoring box-to-box thrill ride.
Or we could see a cautious affair with both teams biding their time, looking for an opportunity while keeping their shape. If Sweden isn’t in front deep into the second half – needing a win – they will open up to find goals which will create holes for Mexico to burrow through.
Shape will likely win-out in the first half, but a goals to both teams might settle it late on.