Sweden emerged the unexpected victors of Group F as entropy filled the penultimate day of group play in Russia. It was particularly emotional for Mexico, who edged out Germany in part thanks to a last-minute South Korean goal that eliminated the defending champions.
EKATERINBURG, Russia — The Mexican heart, that organ shared by 125 million human beings and then some, just spent a Wednesday in a relentless wringer. It knew hope, then dread, then horror, then hopelessness, then elation, then pause, then fret, then hope again, then elation again. It’s a wonder everyone in possession of one of those hearts did not sob. Many did, including Edson Alvarez, who plays for Mexico.
“Too much emotion, man; my heart’s still pumping,” said Luis Omar Tapia, who happened to be broadcasting the Mexico-Sweden match in Ekaterinburg Arena for the Mexican network Televisa. He also happened to be the person whose challenged heart caused him to make an odd sound near the end of a 3-0 demolition of Mexico by Sweden, a score capped with Alvarez’s desolate own goal.
It sounded like exultation.
Soon, on one of the strangest days anybody could spend in a stadium, that sound grew replicated across the vociferous Mexico fans in the stands, where a wavelet of noise rippled across the thousands of prodigious travelers. They had been checking their smartphones from an emotional position of severe hopelessness.
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They knew Germany was playing South Korea 450 air miles east in Kazan in a 0-0 scrap. They knew one German goal would complete Mexico’s descent all the way from the top of the Group F to the jet home from the World Cup. They knew Germany would score because Germany is always Germany. As Tapia put it, and so many of them might have, “I didn’t think it was going to be fair that with six points, Mexico was going to be out.”
Suddenly, however, they spotted something implausible. South Korea had scored, in the second minute of added time, so they made a little boom as a mismatch to the fumes of carnage on the pitch.
Suddenly, their quick mirth deflated, because apparently the South Korea goal had gone disallowed.
Suddenly, they rebuilt a kind of a cautiously positive noise, because on video review, the South Korea goal had gone allowed.
Sweden would win the group on six points, but Mexico would push through in second place even on a bedraggled day, and Germany, which had won its group every time since 1990 and won the World Cup in 2014, would depart unforeseeably. In all the stadiums and arenas of all the days and nights, the noise the mixture produced would have to rank among the freakiest.
Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio barely noticed, saying he was “very hurt” with how his defense in particular had played, but mostly with how he had coached it, with a team unfit for Sweden’s airborne physicality. He said, “Today my sin was to be a purist,” and, “Maybe one day I’ll get it right.”
Sweden manager Janne Andersson didn’t notice either, so obsessed was he with the game at hand, and with his team’s stout recovery from its harrowing 2-1 loss to Germany in the 95th minute last Saturday night, and so enamored was he with what he witnessed.
“I’m so incredibly proud, almost moved I have to say, how they performed in the entire match,” he said of his team, twice extolling its ethic as “loyal” and saying, “I rarely use too strong a word but I have to say, we’ve done a fantastic job with this match today.”
The whistle here sounded with so many seeming barely to notice, so focused was everyone upon Kazan. Sweden’s players went into a group hug and began applauding their fans. Alvarez sobbed and sobbed until even some Mexican fans miffed with him claimed to grow sympathetic. South Korea had scored again, not that it was necessary, to complete its 2-0 victory.
Ludwig Auguestinsson, the defender who opened Sweden’s scoring on 50 minutes by banging Viktor Claesson’s cross from the right through goalkeeper Guillmermo Ochoa’s arm, would say: “I apologize. I have hardly any voice. I’m very hoarse. This is something I’ve dreamed about and the insane feeling is I’ve had this feeling that I was going to score in a World Cup.”
He would add, “We really deserve to progress.”
He would say, honestly, “I think perhaps we didn’t expect to win the group even though we thought we may qualify.”
So many emotions would roam the air. Sweden, which had complained after its haunting loss to Germany at some taunting from the German bench, would express no elation at Germany’s fate, with Andersson saying: “Never in a million years. This is not how I work … I’m not like that. I don’t think it’s right to play that way in sports.”
Osorio would go on about his lesson learned, and say, “First of all I have to say we qualified because we beat Germany and South Korea, however and nonetheless I am very hurt.” His thoughts would venture to expressing respect for Sweden and its discipline with its style, to saying he did not agree with that style, to noting that all of Latin America, save for Uruguay, struggles with playing “talent football” against teams that don’t.
It had been a confusing day, after all, a rare day, a day that fit snugly with something Andersson said casually at one point, something the 33,061 and all the Mexican hearts in Ekaterinburg Arena knew yet again: “You can never be sure of anything, really, one hundred percent, in sports.”