It all went wrong for Mexico in the final game of the World Cup group stage, but South Korea came to the rescue.
Mexico's 3-0 loss to Sweden put El Tri on the brink of World Cup elimination, but, like in 2002, South Korea saved a Concacaf side, giving the assist to Mexico with a 2-0 over Germany that allowed Juan Carlos Osorio's side to go through to the last 16. It was 16 years ago that a South Korea result allowed the United States to continue its eventual run to the quarterfinals, and the Asian side came through again for a North American foe in stunning fashion.
Mexico had a calamity of a performance, and conceded first in the group to Sweden, while Mexico goes through as the second-place finisher after the defeat.
Despite rumors that Osorio would rotate his squad, keeping with a theme of his tenure at Mexico coach, El Profe pulled off a surprise. For the first time in 51 matches, he named an unchanged XI from the previous match, instead sticking with what got him to this point.
Mexico nearly had a disaster in the opening 90 seconds. Jesus Gallardo was whistled for the fastest yellow card in World Cup history 15 seconds in going up for an aerial challenge, gifting Sweden a set piece chance. Marcus Berg headed back across goal off the free kick, but Mexico was able to clear before Sweden could pounce on the opportunity.
El Tri had another call go against them a couple of minutes later, when Guillermo Ochoa was ruled to have handled the ball outside the box despite replays showing he clearly was in the box when making the play. It gifted Sweden a free kick from a tight left-sided angle, and Ochoa was called into action to make a save on the powerful shot from Emil Forsberg.
Sweden continued to push and nearly scored again in the 12th minute when the ball popped up for Berg with his back to goal. He opted for an overhead attempt from close range, putting his chance inches wide of the left post.
Mexico finally had a chance to strike in the 17th minute when a sequence in the final third resulted in Carlos Vela having a clear left-footed look from the top of the box. The LAFC star curled his left-footed chance just wide of the mark, though, letting Sweden off with a warning.
It then became Sweden's turn to spoil a chance, with Forsberg running onto a cross in the box only to sky his first-touch volley over the bar from in close, continuing a match the remained wide open.
Mexico caught a break at the half-hour mark, when it appeared Chicharito handled the ball in the Mexico box. The initial play went uncalled, but the referee elected to look at the video after being signalled by VAR. He did not give the penalty call that Sweden was expecting, instead ruling play to continue with a Sweden corner kick. Off that set piece, Ochoa was forced into another save, tipping Berg's goal-bound chance over the bar to keep the match 0-0.
Mexico's margin for error was erased five minutes into the second half. Ludwig Augustinsson struck from the left-hand side to give Sweden a 1-0 lead, a goal that launched Sweden to first in the group and Mexico down to second. With Germany still scoreless vs. South Korea, Mexico still remained alive, but not by much. One Germany goal, with Mexico losing, would have bumped El Tri down to third.
It got worse for Mexico at the hour mark. Hector Moreno was whistled for a penalty after a slide tackle in the box that took down Berg, gifting Sweden a penalty. Andreas Granqvist converted from the spot, making it 2-0. As it stood between the two games, Mexico was only ahead on the goals scored tiebreaker vs. Germany, if Germany could have found a winner.
Things fell apart even more for Mexico 15 minutes later. Off a long throw-in, Ola Toivonen's flick forced Edson Alvarez into an own goal to make it 3-0 Sweden. At the time, Germany remained level 0-0, keeping Mexico through in second, but its hopes were hanging by a thread.
Late in the Germany-South Korea match, Mats Hummels missed a point-blank header that would have put Germany provisionally into second place as Mexico continued to scoreboard watch, hoping for the Koreans to do them a solid. And eventually, they did. South Korea scored twice in stoppage time, including once on a VAR-assisted goal off a corner kick and another off a breakaway into an empty net, clearing the path for Mexico to go through, dramatically. Its hope is that its World Cup won't end in the last 16 for a seventh consecutive tournament.
For highlights from the simultaneous Group F finale between Germany and South Korea, click here.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liege), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)
Defenders: Edson Alvarez (America), Hugo Ayala (Tigres), Jesus Gallardo (Pumas), Hector Moreno (Real Sociedad), Miguel Layun (Sevilla), Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Midfielders: Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Jonathan dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Marco Fabian (Eintracht Frankfurt), Andres Guardado (Real Betis), Erick Gutierrez (Pachuca), Hector Herrera (Porto), Rafa Marquez (Atlas)
Forwards: Javier Aquino (Tigres), Jesus Corona (Porto), Javier Hernandez (West Ham United), Hirving Lozano (PSV Eindhoven), Raul Jimenez (Benfica), Oribe Peralta (Club America), Carlos Vela (LAFC)
Manager: Juan Carlos Osorio
Goalkeepers: Karl-Johan Johnsson (Guingamp), Kristoffer Nordfeldt (Swansea), Robin Olsen (FC Copenhagen)
Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (Werder Bremen), Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Filip Helander (Bologna), Pontus Jansson (Leeds), Emil Krafth (Bologna), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Martin Olsson (Swansea)
Midfielders: Viktor Claesson (Krasnodar), Jimmy Durmaz (Toulouse), Albin Ekdal (Hamburger SV), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Oscar Hiljemark (Genoa), Sebastian Larsson (Hull City), Marcus Rohden (FC Crotone), Gustav Svensson (Seattle Sounders)
Forwards: Marcus Berg (Al Ain), John Guidetti (Alaves), Isaac Kiese Thelin (Waasland-Beveren), Ola Toivonen (Toulouse)
Manager: Janne Andersson