Sweden 3 Mexico 0
Devastated on the pitch, trailing 3-0 after a performance riddled with anxiety and inhibition, with the minutes ticking down on Mexico's World Cup Javier Hernández did the only thing that really mattered in the circumstances. He pelted over to the touchline and asked his bench the burning question. What the hell is the score of Germany v South Korea? It was 0-0, there was still hope.
This was one of these extraordinary events where emotions were stretched to the fraying edges of reason. In stoppage time in Ekaterinburg the mood transformed, a charge cascading around the crowd. A goal for South Korea! But then the celebrations shrank as news of an offside flag spread. Elation part two came moments later as a referee in front of a television monitor nearly 1,000 kilometers away in Kazan made his decision. Germany’s elimination turned this match into a party in two parts – Sweden were elated, justifiably so, after a superb team performance ensured they top Group F. Mexico’s salty-sweet evening was almost too much for some of their players to take in.
Hernández had called this the alternative Group of Death. But who could have imagined it would be Germany who would fall on their sword. From devastation to elation and everywhere in between. Only sport can do this. For Sweden it meant so much after their stressful week, dealing with their own heartbreakingly late defeat against Germany, emotions running high, and racist abuse aimed at one of their own in Jimmy Durmaz.
Sweden were pumped up from the first minute to last. Over the 90 minutes Sweden played as if on a mission that was about more than just football. In the post-Zlatan era, they play with so much more emphasis on the sense of team, even if they don’t have such an obvious outlet for moments of individual inspiration.
A high press with plenty of high balls gave them the impetus, and Mexico mislaid some of their easy optimism as they strained impose their game in these specialist conditions. Nerves cramped their natural style as they found themselves worrying about Sweden's aerial threat. The intensity of the situation was clear for all to see from kick off. It took 15 seconds for the first hotly competed ball, and Jesús Gallardo had to put a lot into his jump to challenge Ola Toivonen to a high ball. The pair crashed heads. Toivonen was floored and Gallardo booked.
When Guillermo Ochoa casually caught the ball but was adjudged to have handled outside the penalty area, Mexico looked agitated. Emil Forsberg's Toni Kroos impression with a free-kick from a wide angle tested Ochoa, who had to bat the ball away. The heaving crosses were a clear part of the plan, and on a couple of occasions the ball fell invitingly for Emil Forsberg. But he swept his shots into the crowd. His range was frustratingly off key given the space he was afforded.
In the 28th minute the tension was ratcheted up as Sweden called on VAR to make their case for a possible penalty. In an attempt to deal with another set piece, Hernández appeared to control the ball with his arm. The Argentinian official, Néstor Pitana, cantered over to consult the monitors and returned to point that it was, in his opinion, not a penalty. Janne Andersson looked close to popping a blood vessel on the touchline. Sweden had no option but to force the issue but the chances kept coming and slipping out of their grasp.
So, a corner instead of a penalty, and after that Sweden were cursing their luck again. Berg swung a foot at Mikael Lustig's cross and Ochoa was on hand with an agile tip over. Marcus Berg came close just before half-time, slashing his shot into the side netting.
Mexico had their moments in the first half, most of them falling to Carlos Vela. But finding some rhythm – any flow of driving runs and jinking moves and disguised passes – proved frustratingly elusive. Their task became deeply concerning five minutes after the break. Sweden worked the ball forwards, helped when one of the Mexicans fell over and more space opened up. Berg's cross looped on via Viktor Claesson and Ludwig Augustinsson arrived at the far post to slam a volley past Ochoa. An extraordinary moment. The left-back had never before scored for his country.
Sweden's advantage escalated quickly. They were breaking at will, just needing the right final ball, and when Berg was invited to gallop into the area, it was desperation time for Héctor Moreno. The Mexico defender tackled on the stretch but only made contact with Berg's foot. Referee Pitana pointed to the spot with the flourish of certainty. Over on the touchline Juan Carlos Osorio plaintively made a television gesture, hoping it might get them out of a hole. It wouldn't have made much difference. Andreas Granqvist, sweat pouring from his brow, stood over the ball. The captain cracked in his penalty emphatically.
Matters regressed for Mexico when they conceded an awkward third. Dealing with high balls had been a problem all evening and when Sweden's young substitute Isaac Kiese Thelin nodded on, and in trying to clear the ball snuck off Edson Alvárez's hand and trickled past Ochoa.
Mexico glimpsed attempts at a comeback through Hernández and Vela but their fate lay increasingly lay with events in Kazan and the outcome of Germany’s game with South Korea. They made the last 16 once again, even if it was with a performance they need to forget. – Guardian service
MEXICO (4-2-3-1): Ochoa; Alvarez, Salcedo, Moreno, Gallardo (Fabian 65), Layun (Peralta 88); Guardado (Jesus Corona 76), Herrera; Vela, Lozano, Hernandez.
Booked: Gallardo, Moreno, Layun.
SWEDEN (4-4-2): Olsen; Lustig, Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Larsson (Svensson 57), Ekdal (Hiljemark 80), Forsberg; Berg (Thelin 67), Toivonen.
Booked: Larsson, Lustig. Goals: Augustinsson 50, Granqvist 62 pen, Alvarez 74 og.
Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina).