x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Confederations Cup: Hernandez double gives Mexico solace

Japan beaten three games in a row to finish bottom of Group A in Fifa's continental championship. Gary Meenaghan reports from Brazil.

Javier Hernandez scored twice against Japan, but Mexico failed to advance to the semi-finals. Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters
Javier Hernandez scored twice against Japan, but Mexico failed to advance to the semi-finals. Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters

Mexico 2 Japan 1

Man of the Match: Javier Hernandez

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil // A brace from Javier Hernandez ensured Mexico finished their Fifa Confederations Cup with a victory while Japan, despite proving capable of dazzling attacking football, saw their defensive issues exploited once again to fall to a third straight defeat and finish bottom of Group A.

The Manchester United striker headed home early in the second half at Estadio Mineirao before doubling his side's lead 12 minutes later. Shinji Okazaki pulled one back for Japan late on, while Hernandez was denied a hat-trick in added time when his penalty was saved.

With both teams losing their first two matches to Brazil and Italy, neither could progress to the semi-finals and both showed adventure in the opening stages.

Japan, having started at a frenetic pace, could have opened the scoring after only five minutes when Okazaki, the Stuttgart striker, won the ball near his own byline and sparked a counter attack, but the fast-paced move finished with Shinji Kagawa's toe poke being well blocked by Guillermo Ochoa in the Mexican goal.

Four minutes later Japan had the ball in the net, but Yasuhito Endo's shot from outside the area was redirected by Okazaki who was judged to be offside.

Japan continued to press with Keisuke Honda pulling the strings, but it was the Mexicans who came closest to breaking the deadlock. Five minutes before half-time, a cross from the left was met by Andres Guardado, however, the Valencia midfielder's header cannoned back off the upright.

With Mexico's place at next year's World Cup in the balance, Jose Manuel de la Torre has found his position as head coach under pressure, but whatever he said at half-time his team responded and Hernandez showed intelligent movement to evade the Japanese defence, find space and direct an excellent header past Eiji Kawashima on 54 minutes.

The 25 year old, nicknamed Little Pea in his home country, did not wait long to double his side's lead. When a Giovani Dos Santos corner was flicked on by Hiram Mier, Hernandez was on hand to knock the ball past Kawashima with his head once again.

Japan looked tired but with four minutes to go Kagawa, a teammate of Hernandez at Old Trafford, picked out a delightful chipped pass to the back post where Endo was able to play it back across goal into the path of Ozakawi, who made no mistake from five yards.

Alberto Zaccheroni's team pushed for an equaliser, but were caught out at the back when Hernandez sneaked in and was bundled over inside the area. He brushed himself off to hit the penalty but Kawashimi palmed it out and Hernandez struck the rebound off the crossbar.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE