Mexico only just managed to edge out upstarts Congo 2-1 in Morelia on Tuesday to become the first team to book their place in the round of sixteen. Jorge Espericueta and Julio Gomez did the scoring in a contest that saw the Congolese finish with only nine men after a pair of straight red-cards were brandished.
The game began at a furious pace with both sides bypassing midfield and flying forward into attack. The Mexicans, spurred on by the crowd, looked lively and sprayed nice passes around the pitch, while the Africans, who shocked European champions the Netherlands in their first match, attempted to impose themselves physically on proceedings.
Mexico finally got their breakthrough in the 40th minute, after a fair bit of knocking on the door. A sharp move of the right side ended with right-back Francisco Flores racing forward and crossing dangerously across the penalty area. Espericueta collected calmly at the back post before side-footing into the back of the net to a roar of appreciation from the home crowd. The outstanding Mavis Tchibota looked the only threat to the Mexican defence, but even he couldn’t find a way to break through for the Africans as the home side marched off to a standing ovation from the fans at the half.
The Mexicans came out from the interval looking for more goals, and the pressure eventually forced the Africans’ rearguard into another mistake. The lively Arturo Gonzalez raced through toward goal in the 52nd minute and defender Cisse Bassoumba had no choice but to take him down. The referee did not hesitate in producing a straight red card either, and suddenly Congo had a much larger mountain to climb, with coach Eddie Hudanski deciding to withdraw Tchibota in favour of some more defensive cover.
Even so, the Africans weren’t done attacking, and in the 73rd minute they were back on level terms. Bel Epako, the lone remaining threat up front for the visitors, collected the ball at the edge of the area following a defensive mix-up and kept his cool to score to the right of Richard Sanchez. Shortly after, however, the Congolese suffered another blow when they were reduced to nine men after Gildas Mpassi was sent out for a rough challenge, leaving the pitch in tears.
Mexico took full advantage of their numerical superiority as well, putting the game beyond doubt five minutes from time. Giovani Casillas broke down the left side and crossed low for Julio Gomez, who made no mistake as he slid with the ball into the back of the net. Mexican coach Raul Gutierrez can now rest a few of his starters in his side’s final Group A game against the Dutch, on 24 June in Monterrey, the same day that Congo aim to book their passage through to the round of sixteen against Korea DPR.