MIYAGI, Japan, Reuters
Mexico came from a goal down to win their all-Latin American World Cup Group G clash with Ecuador 2-1 on Sunday, putting themselves in a good position to reach the second round for the third straight time.
Ecuador took an early lead with their first ever World Cup finals goal, but it was Mexico who dominated the match on the way to their first victory over south American opponents in 12 finals appearances and top spot in Group G.
After beating Croatia in their opening match, Mexico are only the third team so far to win their first two matches at the tournament, but the group is still wide open and their fate will only be decided after their final game against favorites Italy.
Although no team in World Cup finals history has failed to reach the second round after winning their first two matches, Italy do need to beat the Mexicans to give themselves a chance of progressing.
If they do so, and Croatia defeat Ecuador, then the top three teams in the group would finish level on six points and goal difference would decide who progressed.
“In this second victory we had to sweat a lot,” Mexico coach Javier Aguirre said. “It was a serious match and it did turn into an uphill battle. Some of Ecuador’s substitutions made us change our game.”
Despite losing their first two matches, Ecuador could still advance if they beat Croatia by a few goals and Mexico overcome Italy.
“I think we were equal in the first few minutes but it fell down after that,” Ecuador coach Hernan Dario Gomez said. “The team is new to this and perhaps we had a lack of attitude and a lack of personality.”
In a match marred by a blustery wind which whipped the ball in all directions, Ecuador stole an early lead when towering striker Agustin Delgado headed in a cross from Ulises De la Cruz.
But that was only shot on target in the first half from a team who, as in their opening 2-0 defeat by Italy, appeared over-awed.
Mexico, stunned into action from being a goal behind, piled on the pressure with Gerardo Torrado, Johan Rodriguez and Jesus Arellano feeding plenty of balls through to forwards Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Jared Borgetti.
Their tidy and organized moves paid dividends in the 28th minute when a Ramon Morales cross found Borgetti who scored with a well-crafted left-foot volley at the near post.
Torrado, Mexico’s shaven-headed defensive midfielder, played a crucial role, linking up with Blanco and Rodriguez for nifty passes which were a constant menace to Ecuador’s defense.
In the 57th minute, Torrado took a pass from Rodriguez to fire a left-foot shot past Ecuador goalkeeper Jose Cevallos and put Mexico 2-1 ahead.
Delgado, Ecuador’s pacy striker, showed he was capable of nipping through the Mexican midfield, but he never managed to break through the solid Mexican defense.
After Mexico’s second goal, coach Gomez brought on veteran Alex Aguinaga in a bid to create more chances and Ecuador nearly grabbed an equalizer in the dying minutes when Marlon Ayovi fired a shot inches wide of the post.