Mexico scored three goals in a little over three second-half minutes to come from behind to defeat South Korea 3-2 in Austria on Saturday, in a game which was at risk of being canceled after six South Korean players recorded positive COVID-19 results in the hours leading up to the match.
Hwang Ui-Jo put South Korea into the lead in the 20th minute after latching onto a Son Heung-Min cross, but it came against the run of play, with Mexico spawning chance after chance in the first 45 minutes.
El Tri stayed on the front in the second half, while Korea attempted to hit on the break, but Mexico eventually broke through with three quick-fire goals.
Raul Jimenez leveled in the 67th from a Orbelin Pineda cross, with sub Uriel Antuna netting two minutes later and Carlos Salcedo completing Mexico’s scoring in the 70th.
Korea’s Kwon Kyung-Won bundled the ball in from a corner with three minutes left to set up a nervous finish for Mexico, which has now won 18 of Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s 21 games in charge.
“I’m satisfied. I always say the same, we’ll get there with the finishing,” Martino said after the match. “The important thing is that we created chances against a back five that is well-worked, pressed quickly and made it difficult to play between the lines.”
Hirving Lozano missed from close range in the 11th and hit the post from a corner, while Jesus “Tecatito” Corona also had two chances saved in the first half as Mexico dominated.
Son was a constant source of danger for the Koreans, which was consistently looking for through-balls beyond the Mexico defensive line.
Hwang had his side’s best chance in the second half, after being sent through on goal by Son on the hour mark, but Mexico keeper Hugo Gonzalez was able to save.
The result was deserved for Mexico over the 90 minutes, even if El Tri did look shaky defensively.
The game had been in doubt after the Korean soccer federation announced in the early hours of Saturday that players Kwon Chang-hoon, Hwang In-beom, Lee Dong-jun, Cho Hyeon-woo and one member of staff had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We take all the precautions. We had two COVID tests in the week of our trip [to Europe],” Martino said. “Thankfully they were all negative in the delegation. We know that it is a difficult situation, that there are risks, we know that the players return to their clubs and play important games.
The entire South Korean squad was re-tested on the morning of the game, with two more players — Kim Moon-hwan and Na Sang-ho — coming back positive.
The two federations agreed to play the match, pointing to FIFA and UEFA regulations which say as long as teams have a total of 13 players the game can proceed, according to a statement from the federation.
“Football keeps going, what we have to do is look after our players and return them as safe as possible, but we recognize it is a difficult period and unfortunately things can happen,” added Martino.
Mexico plays Japan on Tuesday, while South Korea takes on Qatar, with both games also in Austria.