Mexico qualify in six-goal thriller
Mexico and China shared six goals in a pulsating and hard-fought final Group A clash in Töölö stadium, Helsinki on Tuesday. The 3-3 result was enough to send the North Americans through to the quarter-finals while the Asians, who were reduced to 10 men midway through the second half, bow out on a high note after entertaining and picking up their first point of the competition.
With Mexico needing just a draw to guarantee qualification to the quarter-finals and China already eliminated after two 2-1 losses, the match began at a lacklustre pace on a cool late summer’s afternoon in Helsinki. Urged on by the usual pockets of vocal fans, China began the brighter with Hao Junmin skipping by a defender before unleashing a right footer that Jose Alamo saved low down to his right.
Slowly though Humberto Grondona’s Tricolores began to dominate possession with Julio Ceja probing with diagonal runs behind the Chinese back four. From a deep corner, the ball fell kindly to Gerardo Flores, but his goal-bound effort struck his own man before bouncing agonisingly wide.
China’s player of the finals so far, Yongpo Wang, emerged into the game just before the half-hour mark, taking a long ball down well on the chest, before swivelling and rifling a shot that Alamo did well to hold on to.
He made no mistake a few minutes later though. The Asian team were beginning to get on top and from Hao’s beautifully swung in corner, Yongpo climbed majestically above a green sea of Mexican defenders to bravely plant a header low into the bottom corner (1-0, ’34) for his second goal of the finals. Liu Chunming’s teenagers went ahead for the third game in a row. Within seconds they had nearly extended their lead when once again Wang got in, but, this time, his shot was weak and easily gathered by Alamo.
Whatever Grondona said at half time it worked. Within seconds of the restart, Emilio Lopez whistled a shot past the left post. Then captain Alberto Ramirez, who had moved to his more habitual central midfield position, crashed a half volley that shaved Tian X’s other post. Happier to be in the centre of things, Ramirez was involved in the equaliser. His corner from the right was glanced in at the near post by Flores (1-1, ’51).
exico were on top, but it was China who got their noses in front again. From another corner, Jiang Chen, unmarked on the penalty spot, guided the ball into the open net (2-1, ’61). Suddenly China were totally in command but, once again, in this topsy-turvy encounter events surprised. After a foul outside the penalty box, China’s Cai Xi lashed out at Flores and was promptly sent off. In the skirmish that followed, Mexico’s substitute keeper, Oscar Gonzalez, was also dismissed. China were made to pay further when Manuel Mariaca sprang highest to nod in Ceja’s delicately floated free kick (2-2 ’73).
Five minutes later and the Tricolores were ahead for the first time in the match with the game’s fifth headed goal. Rafael Murguia stole in at the near post to flick in another Ramirez corner for his first goal of the tournament (2-3, ‘78). But just when it seemed the 10-men were finally downed, Jiang finished off a fine counter-attack, cutting inside onto his right foot and slotted the ball home for his second goal of the match and third of the finals (3-3 ’81).
After the match Mexico’s Argentine coach Grondona expressed his relief at having qualified. “We didn’t play well in the first half so I changed the team’s formation at half time,” he said. “We played much better and were on for the win. But we lost concentration at the end and were made to pay.”
China’s coach Liu acknowledged his team had gained a lot of experience from playing in the finals. “We learned from each game how the other teams controlled possession and this is something we need to strive for in the future,” he said.