ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia — The criticism of Mexico’s national team heading into the World Cup was loud and scathing. The answer has been emphatic.
The Mexicans won their second straight match at the tournament, beating South Korea 2-1 Saturday to move ever closer to a spot in the round of 16.
“We didn’t listen to the criticism,” said Javier Hernandez, one of the scorers against South Korea. “It was just noise.”
Mexico opened its World Cup by upsetting defending champion Germany 1-0. A second victory on Saturday gives it six points and a chance to win Group F on Wednesday when the team faces Sweden.
“We want the Mexican people to enjoy this. We are going to enjoy it,” Hernandez said. “But as of tomorrow we will be working hard thinking about Sweden and regardless of the results of the matches against Germany and South Korea, we are going to go out there to get the three points.”
Hernandez and Carlos Vela scored a goal each at Rostov Arena. Vela converted from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after Jang Hyun-soo handled the ball while trying to stop a cross from Andres Guardado.
Hernandez added the second in the 66th, scoring his 50th goal for Mexico. He hit the ball low past goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo after collecting a pass from Hirving Lozano.
“We have beaten two brilliant and complicated teams, Germany and South Korea,” Hernandez said. “Our talent and hard work have paid off.”
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he prepared more for the match against South Korea than for the game against Germany.
“Very often when you play countries or teams with less of a footballing history, human beings tend to rest on their laurels a little bit. They tend to relax, they tend to lose focus, so every weekend, every match, we insist on being fully focused on not losing that important message,” Osorio said. “We’ve received a lot of praise, we the team, and we’ve tried to remain focused.”
Son Heung-min scored a consolation goal for South Korea in injury time, sending a powerful shot past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
The South Koreans, who have lost their opening two matches, kept Ochoa under pressure throughout the match with Son often out-sprinting the Mexican defense.
“I think our players had a game they will not regret,” South Korea coach Shin Tae-yong. “All of the players became one, and they did their utmost until the very last minute.”
Mexico relied on keeping possession and long-range shots, with a powerful attempt from Guardado forcing an athletic save from Jo in the second half. A volley from Vela skimmed the bar minutes later.
Mexican fans avoided using a chant, which is considered to be homophobic by FIFA, against the opposing goalkeeper. The chant earned the country’s soccer federation a fine after the previous match.
Germany 2, Sweden 1
SOCHI, Russia — The desperate world champions from Germany were seconds from losing control of their World Cup fate when Toni Kroos whispered to Marco Reus just outside Sweden’s penalty area.
With the score tied in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Kroos seemed to remind Reus of a trick play from training that will live in World Cup lore.
The Germans, down to 10 men after Jerome Boateng was given a second yellow card, rallied for a 2-1 victory Saturday and their title defense was suddenly revived.
Kroos lined up for a free kick as if he was going for goal but just tapped the ball to Reus, who held it with his toe as the defenders paused. Kroos smashed it, curling the ball past a spinning Sebastian Larsson and over the outreached hand of diving goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
The Swedes watched the ball go in with mouth-open disbelief.
The Germans ran to Kroos and erupted in emotional relief.
Coming off an opening loss to Mexico, Germany fell behind again when Kroos’ early mistake led to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute. Reus equalized in the 48th.
Mexico leads Group F with six points, and Germany and Sweden both have three. Mexico faces Sweden and Germany takes on winless South Korea in the final group matches.
For 90-plus minutes, Germany looked as if it would enter the final match facing the same possible fate as Spain and Italy and potentially become the third straight defending champion to fail to reach the knockout stage. They played the final 10 minutes without Boateng.
Toivonen gave Sweden the lead, but Germany controlled every aspect by playing aggressive and attacking soccer. Germany forced Sweden to play defensively for almost the entire second half and eventually the attack paid off.
Reus scored to pull Germany even, finishing Timo Werner’s cross that was tapped by halftime substitute Mario Gomez and caused the ball to pop up perfectly for Reus to finish with his leg.
Olsen made a major save by stopping Gomez’s header in the 88th minute and Julian Brandt hit the post in the 90th, but he had no chance at Kroos’ strike.
Belgium 5, Tunisia 2
Belgium seems to be getting better and better — maybe even the best yet at the World Cup.
It’s still early, but a hugely talented Belgian squad made a big statement on Saturday in its 5-2 rout of Tunisia. No team has scored more goals than Belgium’s eight, and only Cristiano Ronaldo can match Romelu Lukaku’s tally of four.
Belgium has yet to face South American or European opposition, however, and playing England on Thursday should decide who advances to the round of 16 as the winner of Group H.
“In the end, we need to play better teams and have better focus,” said Lukaku, who has scored two goals in each of Belgium’s two victories.
No player has had back-to-back World Cup games like that since Diego Maradona in 1986, though Argentina’s iconic captain did it in the quarterfinals and semifinals — against Belgium — before lifting the trophy.
Though Belgium is a long way from a first World Cup title, it is has looked like the most complete attacking force in Russia.
On Saturday, Eden Hazard also scored twice in the dominant display that produced the highest scoring game of tournament.
It could have been more. After replacing Hazard in the 68th minute, substitute Michy Batshuayi had several good chances before scoring one in the 90th.
“I think the whole of Belgium should celebrate,” said coach Roberto Martinez, who has overseen a 21-game unbeaten run since losing to his native Spain in his first game in charge in September 2016.
If Belgium had one worry, though, it was allowing Tunisia to quickly score after extending its lead. The tenacious North Africans also got five of their 15 shots on target.
The Belgians were rampant at times and had the luxury of taking off Lukaku and Hazard early in the second half to nurse injury concerns. Martinez said Lukaku had pain in his right ankle and Hazard hurt a calf muscle. Still, it could suit the coach to rotate his lineup against England with more decisive games ahead.
“In a tournament like the World Cup you’re only as good as the 23 players, so there will be opportunities for the other players,” Martinez said.
Slow starters against Panama, Belgium got things done early on Saturday despite the warm conditions at Spartak Stadium. Hazard scored with a sixth-minute penalty kick he earned by being tripped, and Lukaku angled a low, left-foot shot into the corner of Tunisia’s goal in the 16th.
“We knew that if we scored early, the game would be easy,” Hazard said. “So after five minutes we scored, and we controlled the game.”
The Tunisians cut the lead when defender Dylan Bronn headed in a goal in the 18th minute, but Belgium wasn’t done.
Lukaku clipped a right-foot shot over advancing goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha in first-half stoppage time. Hazard then ran on to a long pass in the 51st, flicked the ball around Ben Mustapha and shot into an empty net.
Tunisia captain Wahbi Khazri then scored with almost the last kick of the match.