The two sides had been evenly matched for over an hour before Rafael Marquez finally broke the deadlock, with Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez adding to the tally in a quick flurry. The potential result had threatened Brazil's position atop the group, with one more goal being enough for El Tri to leapfrog the hosts, but Ivan Perisic pulled one back to scupper their hopes.
Mexico had the two best chances of the first half through Hector Herrera crashing a long-range effort off the bar and Oribe Peralta slipping while through on goal, but Croatia had enjoyed the better of it. In the second half, however, there was more refereeing controversy as Darijo Srna escaped with a clear handball in the area as Mexico pushed for a goal.
Fortunately for El Tri, they weren't waiting long. Rafael Marquez rose highest to meet Herrera's delivery and a captain's goal appeared to book their place in the second round. Yet the game soon took a further surprise twist in Mexico's favour as a superb finish from Andres Guardado from the edge of the area, and Javier Hernandez pouncing to nod home a flicked-on corner threatened Brazil's position.
As Mexico poured forward for a fourth, however, Brazil scored another in their game while Croatia pulled one back. Ivan Rakitic played in Ivan Perisic down the left and the midfielder produced a laser-guided finish to beat Guillermo Ochoa from a tight angle. Substitute Ante Rebic also saw red shortly afterwards for a dangerous challenge.
KEY MOMENTS 22' - HERRERA HITS THE BAR - Mexico come closest to scoring in the first half as Hector Herrera hits a thunderous effort which crashes off the woodwork.
65' - MEXICO PENALTY DENIED - Darijo Srna clearly blocks Andres Guardado's shot with his arms, but the referee awards only a corner. Mexico go absolutely bananas in protest.
72' - MARQUEZ PUTS MEXICO IN FRONT - Rafael Marquez scores a captain's goal from Herrera's delivery to put his side within touching distance of the knockout round.
74' GUARDADO SEALS IT - Guardado produces a rocket of a finish just two minutes later which nearly takes the roof off both the net and the stadium as Mexico's progress is all but secured.
81' HERNANDEZ MAKES THE UNTHINKABLE THINKABLE - Javier Hernandez gets on the end of a flicked-on corner to the back post to nod into the net and give Mexico a remarkable chance to finish top of the group if they can find one more goal.
86' CROATIA PULL ONE BACK - Combined with Brazil's goal against Cameroon, Mexico's hopes of finishing first evaporate as Ivan Perisic produces a great finish to pull one back.
Mexico have made it past the Group stage in each of the last seven World Cup finals in which they’ve participated.
Mexico have now won eight of their 31 World Cup games against European opposition (26%).
Croatia have never won their final group game at a World Cup (D1 L3).
Mexico have won their final group game at a World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Croatia have conceded more than one goal against Mexico for the first time in their history.
Each of Mexico’s last eight goals at the World Cup have arrived in the second half.
Indeed, 10 of the last 12 World Cup goals scored by Mexico have come after half time.
Rafael Márquez has netted a goal for Mexico in each of the last three World Cups.
Mexico attempted 28 shots in their opening three games at the 2014 World Cup, fewer than any other Group A side.
Same again for Mexico?: Mexico have gone out in the first knockout round in the last five consecutive World Cups and look likely to do so here as they face The Netherlands in the next round. It's mostly been the luck of the draw - they always finish second and get drawn against an excellent side in the next round - but they look like being disappointed again here. In a country that produces lots of good players but few stars, it's hard not to wonder if they can't break out of the cycle.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Hector Herrera (Mexico) - Provider of the crucial first goal and almost scored a sublime effort in the first half. The midfield dynamo was once linked to Manchester United, and he appears to be a fine player who really grabbed hold of the game when it mattered for his side.
Mexico: Ochoa 7, Moreno 6, Marquez 7, Rodriguez 6, Vazquez 6, Herrera 8, Guardado 7, Layun 7, Aguilar 7, Dos Santos 5, Peralta 5. Subs: Hernandez 7, Pena 6, Fabian 6.
Croatia: Pletikosa 5, Srna 6, Corluka 5, Lovren 6, Vrsaljko 6, Rakitic 7, Pranjic 5, Olic 5, Modric 6, Perisic 7, Mandzukic 5. Subs: Jelavic 6, Kovacic 5, Rebic 4.
THE MATCH OF THE TWEET
- Sports & Recreation
- Hector Herrera
- Javier Hernandez
- Andres Guardado
- Rafael Marquez
- Ivan Perisic