Uruguay picked up a narrow win against Mexico to go through to the Round of 16 as Group A winners. Luis Suarez headed the only goal of the game just before half time. The Mexicans are also through, pipping South Africa to the runners-up spot on goal difference.
Suarez had a great chance to open the scoring six minutes in after pouncing on a slip in the Mexican defence but he shot wide of the far post from an angle. Mauricio Victorino had an even better chance in the 18th minute, putting a free header over the bar from Diego Forlan’s corner. After 21 minutes, Alvaro Pereira blasted wide of the near post with Forlan better placed in the area. A minute later, Andres Guardado rattled the underside of the bar with a rocket from 30 yards but it bounced back out into play. Edinson Cavani put a speculative effort wide of the far post from distance before Carlos Salcido fired well over at the other end. Suarez fired Uruguay in front two minutes before half time heading home unmarked at the back post. Cavani supplied the cross after Forlan had won the ball in midfield.
Diego Lugano got his head to Forlan’s freekick after 54 minutes but Oscar Perez saved excellently low down to his right. Perez was less convincing moments later, getting a poor punch on a corner but Suarez could only scuff his resulting effort wide from the right of the area. Francisco Rodriguez had a glorious chance to level the score after 64 minutes, diving at Pablo Barrera’s cross to head from six yards, but his contact was poor and he put it wide with the goal gaping. Mexico were unable to create another opening as good as Rodriguez’s and the game petered out. Cavani had a late effort from distance pushed wide by Perez but there was little urgency with both teams aware of their impending progression.
Uruguay looked the more relaxed team from the start, safe in the knowledge that only a defeat coupled with a significant turn around in goal difference compared to the winner of the France vs. South Africa game could see them go out of the World Cup. A draw would have suited the Uruguayans fine too, their one goal advantage on goal difference over Mexico meaning that a share of the points would have sent them through as group winners. The Mexicans looked edgy, and for all their early possession, they failed to create much in the way of clear cut chances. Fernando Muslera was relatively untroubled throughout the first half, with Guardado’s stunner from long range the only time Mexico looked like scoring. Giovani dos Santos occasionally looked dangerous running at the defence from deep but he was unable to make real inroads into the Uruguayan barricade.
The pick of the bunch for Uruguay in attack was Cavani. Playing from the right wing, he was always full of running and his delivery for the winning goal was excellent. With defenders to beat in the area, he put in an inch perfect cross to Suarez at the back post who headed home. Having looked increasingly like the Forlan show in the win over South Africa, it was encouraging to see Cavani step up to the plate against Mexico. With Suarez having grabbed a confidence boosting goal after drawing blanks in his first two games, Uruguay will now hope to see more of the man who struck 49 times this season for Ajax. If Oscar Tabarez can coax strong performances from his three star attackers in the same game, then Uruguay have a real chance of progressing beyond the Round of 16.
It is not just his frontline that will fill Tabarez with confidence. Uruguay have now kept clean sheets in all three of their games, something that would not have been easily predicted following their patchy defensive performances in qualifying. Having used four goalkeepers in their 18-game South American campaign, of which the first three all looked horribly unconvincing, Tabarez may now have found someone he can rely on. Muslera has had relatively little to do over the three games but has looked steady if unspectacular when called upon. In front of him, there has been a real team effort to defend as a unit, although Jorge Fucile in particular stood out against Mexico. Successive World Cup clean sheets do not come by accident, as Switzerland have proven in breaking the record for the longest period without conceding, and it is testament to Uruguay that they remain unbreached at the back during the 2010 World Cup.
With the final matches in Group B played later tonight, it is not yet known who Uruguay and Mexico will face in the next round. There is a high likelihood that Mexico will face Argentina, with Diego Maradona’s side in a strong position at the top of the table, and Uruguay will be glad to have probably avoided the Argentines by winning Group A. Mexico will have to be vastly improved upon today’s performance to live with Argentina but they know they are capable of playing much better and have a defence capable of the discipline needed to frustrate Lionel Messi and co. Uruguay will believe they can beat any of their prospective opponents, and will look to follow Argentina’s successful lead by attacking whoever they play from kick off.
Mexico – Perez – Osorio, Moreno (Castro 57), Rodriguez, Salcido – Guardado (Barrera 46), Marquez, Torrado – Dos Santos, Franco, Blanco (Hernandez 46)
Uruguay – Muslera – Lugano, Victorino, Fucile, M.Pereira – Perez, Arevalo, A.Pereira (Scotti 76) – Suarez (A. Fernandez 85), Forlan, Cavani