RECIFE, Brazil – One of the first things Miguel Herrera did when he became Mexico’s fourth coach in a year was call Rafael Marquez and ask the 35-year-old defender known as “the boss” to return to the national team as captain.
On Monday, the world saw why.
Marquez’s pivotal goal from a header in the 72nd minute ignited a scoring burst, and Mexico surged into the World Cup’s knockout stage for a sixth straight time with a 3-1 triumph over Croatia.
“I did not hesitate one minute after my talk with him to appoint him captain,” Herrera said of Marquez, who is in his fourth World Cup. “He’s had many achievements in his career, personally, but he has also provided leadership to the team, that soundness, and that is why they call him the boss.”
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Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez scored in a 10-minute span in the second half, dooming a talented Croatia side to elimination in the group stage.
The Croats had to win to advance and held the bulk of possession, but had trouble seriously threatening goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who kept out all efforts until an 87th-minute goal from Ivan Perisic.
Mexico, which had to struggle to be part of the 32-team field, will play the Netherlands in the second round.
Marquez, who had scored in Germany in 2006 and South Africa four years ago, made it three straight World Cups with a goal by beating Croatia defender Vedran Corluka to head home Hector Herrera’s corner.
“They wanted him to retire, and look at him,” Guardado said of Marquez. “He plays like he’s 23.”
Mexico’s real goal is the quarterfinal — which it has not reached since 1986 — and beyond.
“I think the important phrase within the team is ‘make history,’ ” Marquez said. “We’re doing it step by step, match by match.”
Brazil takes Group A
BRASILIA, Brazil – Neymar lived up to the expectations of the host nation, scoring two goals in the first half as Brazil routed Cameroon 4-1 to reach the knockout stage as the top team in Group A.
“It was our best match,” Neymar said. “Not only because of the result but also because of how we played. We pressured our opponent, just like we wanted. We deserved this result — everyone in the team deserves credit for what we did today.”
Brazil will face Chile in the second round.
Group B is Dutch treat
SAO PAULO, Brazil – Leroy Fer scored a minute after coming on as a substitute to help give the Netherlands a 2-0 victory over Chile. The Dutch earned the top spot in Group B with their third consecutive victory.
“We gave nothing away and fought like lions,” Dutch player Arjen Robben said. “Orange lions.”
Fer scored on a header in the 77th minute and Memphis Depay scored in stoppage time.
Coach Louis van Gaal used two substitutes and each one produced a goal.
“It is luck,” van Gaal said of his maneuvers. “Just luck.”
Standout Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal, who had knee surgery last month and hurt his right Achilles tendon while in Brazil, sat out after playing in the first two matches.
Spain finally wins
CURITIBA, Brazil – Spain, the 2010 champion that lost its first two games at this event, salvaged some pride with a 3-0 victory over Australia in the last match at the Cup for both teams. David Villa, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata scored.
As a result of its victory, Spain avoided the worst World Cup title defense in history. That label remains with the France team of 2002, which secured one point in its goal-less campaign.