COVENTRY: Giovani dos Santos, one of the most erratically unpredictable of footballers, scored twice as substitute to hand Mexico a 2-0 win over Gabon in Group B in Coventry. They sit level on points at the top of the table with North Korea who beat Switzerland 2-1.
Again only named as a substitute by Mexico coach Luis Fernando Tena, the forward who remains an outcast at Tottenham turned the game in his team’s favour following an even first half and vastly improved the CONCACAF side’s chances of reaching the quarter-finals.
Both teams began the match on the front foot with the knowledge that a win could prove vital after all four sides in the section drew on the opening day.
On six minutes, Mexico had the first clear sights of goal. First Marco Fabian struck a shot from outside the box which was saved smartly by Gabon ‘keeper Didier Ovono. Shortly after, the Chivas forward crossed for Miguel Ponce, who failed to find the target from close range.
El Tri were perhaps dominating possession but the Africans posed an obvious threat on the counter-attack, with Pierre Aubameyang a particular focal point for their breaks out of defence.
Ovono was again called into action at the half-hour mark to stop an Oribe Peralta header before counterpart Jose Corona saved a dangerous shot from Gabon midfielder Jerry Obiang two minutes later.
Franck Engonga made inroads through the Mexican defence but was eventually repelled by Hiram Mier, and Peralta sent another headed effort wide as the teams entered the half-time break goalless.
Tena introduced Giovani for the second period and there was an increased attacking emphasis in Mexico’s play almost instantly. Ovono produced a stunning fingertip save to deny Peralta on 51 minutes but the breakthrough goal arrived just after the hour mark.
Strong hold-up play by Peralta created space for Giovani, who took a touch to compose himself and curled a shot around Ovono and into the back of the net.
Gabon rallied, with Aubameyang twice going close to an equaliser before substitute Allen Nono missed a clear opportunity with five minutes left on the clock, his weak shot at the far post easy for Corona to gather.
The Africans paid for their profligacy in stoppage time. Henry Ndong received a second yellow card for manhandling Peralta in the penalty area and Giovani converted the spot-kick to send Mexico top of Group B.
The final round of fixtures in Group B take place on Wednesday, when Mexico take on Switzerland in Cardiff and Gabon face Korea Republic at Wembley.
North Korea 2, Switzerland 1
Korea Republic joined Mexico at the top of Group B after a lively and thoroughly deserved 2-1 win over Switzerland at the City of Coventry Stadium. Park Chu-Young and Kim Bo-Kyung scored the Taeguk Warrios’ goals as they moved on to four points, while the beaten Swiss – for whom Innocent Emeghara was on target – remain level with Gabon on one.
The first-half was completely dominated by the South Koreans, and ultimately boiled down to a personal duel between Park and Diego Benaglio. Indeed, it was only the fact that the Swiss keeper came out on top, initially at least – pushing away a close-range header and then blocking a deflected effort – that ensured his team survived the first half unscathed.
The Wolfsburg No1 couldn’t keep up his resistance indefinitely though, and on 57 minutes he was finally beaten, when Park dived in to meet Nam Tae-Hee’s inviting cross and head beyond his nemesis.
The goal was no more than Korea Republic deserved, although their lead was to last just three minutes before parity was restored. Switzerland’s equaliser followed a very similar pattern too, with Ricardo Rodriguez delivering a superb cross into the heart of the box and Emeghara sneaking between two defenders to bullet home a precise header.
Having worked so hard to establish an advantage only to see it eroded in a flash, the South Koreans might have been demoralised. As it was, they continued to press forward undeterred, and retook the lead just four minutes later, with Kim volleying in left-footed from a deflected Koo Ja-Cheol cross.
They now face Gabon in their final match needing just a point to advance, while Switzerland know that only maximum points will do in their Cardiff showdown with Mexico.
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