ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- South Korea fell to Mexico 2-1 for their second straight loss at the FIFA World Cup in Russia on Saturday, though their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage are still alive thanks to Germany.
Son Heung-min's stunner in second-half stoppage time wasn't nearly enough for South Korea at Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, about 1,000 kilometers south of Moscow. Carlos Vela scored on a 26th-minute penalty, and Javier Hernandez doubled Mexico's advantage in the 66th, with South Korea only managing one goal in response.
Having earlier stunned defending champions Germany, Mexico are sitting pretty atop Group F with six points.
South Korea's forward Son Heung-min celebrates scoring their first goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between South Korea and Mexico at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 23. (Yonhap)
South Korea, who lost to Sweden 1-0 to open group play, are still pointless. But they somehow still have a shot at reaching the round of 16, after Germany defeated Sweden 2-1 on a last-gasp goal by Toni Kroos in Sochi later Saturday.
A Sweden win or draw would have knocked out South Korea. But with 10-man Germany pulling off a miraculous rally, Germany and Sweden now have three points apiece, three back of Mexico and three ahead of South Korea.
If South Korea defeat Germany by at least two goals next Wednesday in Kazan, and Mexico beat Sweden, then South Korea, Germany and Sweden will all end up with three points, but South Korea will move on thanks to a goal difference edge.
In this case, South Korea will have a goal difference of zero, while both Germany and Sweden will be in the minus column.
After failing to generate any offense in a 4-3-3 setting in a 1-0 loss to Sweden on Monday, South Korea head coach Shin Tae-yong reverted to a more familiar 4-4-2.
He also made a few lineup changes. On the attack, midfielder Lee Jae-sung moved to the forward line alongside Son Heung-min. Son's usual partner up front, Hwang Hee-chan, slid down to the secondary line of attack, with World Cup debutant Moon Seon-min starting as the other winger.
Captain Ki Sung-yueng also had a new sidekick in midfield, with Ju Se-jong making his first World Cup appearance.
On defense, Kim Min-woo started as left back. Kim replaced starter Park Joo-ho against Sweden when Park came down with a hamstring injury in the first half, but he had a match to forget. He committed a foul in the box in the second half that led to a costly penalty against his team.
Jo Hyeon-woo, the best South Korean player against Sweden, was back in net for the second straight match, with the much-maligned center back duo, Kim Young-gwon and Jang Hyun-soo, once again playing in front of Jo.
The scrappy South Koreans were called for seven fouls in the opening 12 minutes against Mexico's one, while Mexico dominated the ball.
The teams started trading some chances midway through the first half. In the 22nd, Son Heung-min sprung free on a breakaway but had two shots blocked, first by Hector Moreno and then by Carlos Salcedo.
Son even managed a third attempt seconds later but rolled it wide right of the target.
On the ensuing corner, Ki Sung-yueng's header was tipped just over the net by Guillermo Ochoa.
Mexico's forward Javier Hernandez scores their second goal past South Korea's goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group F football match between South Korea and Mexico at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-On-Don on June 23. (Yonhap)
Mexico started pushing back, and they were awarded a fortuitous penalty in the 24th when Korean defender Jang Hyun-soo was called for a handball violation in the box, after he blocked an Andres Guardado cross with his right arm while sliding.
Vela then stepped up and fired a left-footed shot past keeper Jo Hyeon-woo, as South Korea allowed a goal on penalty for the second straight match.
Mexico nearly doubled the lead two minutes after Vela's goal. Vela was allowed to streak into the box untouched from the left wing and set up Miguel Layun for a shot that sailed just over the net.
The match opened up even further in the second half, as the two sides traded punches with a series of counterattacking opportunities.
In the 52nd, Moon had a shot go off the hand of defender Carlos Salcedo in the box, but Salcedo's hand was close to his chest and it was deemed an accidental contact.
Four minutes later, Ki unleashed a shot from the top left corner of the box, but it went right at Ochoa in net.
At the other end in the 58th, Jo denied Guardado from just inside the box, jumping to his right to send a left-footed attempt out of harm's way.
At the hour mark, Ki saved what could have been a sure goal by Lozano, making a desperate, last-minute tackle on a breakaway.
Attacking midfielder Lee Seung-woo came off the bench in the 64th for defensive midfielder Ju Se-jong, but he failed to spark the attack.
Instead, it was Mexico that scored two minutes after Lee entered the match. Lozano made a steal in midfield and sprinted deep into the offensive zone, before feeding Hernandez charging down the left flank.
Hernandez then cut toward the middle to shake off diving defender Jang Hyun-soo, and calmly slotted it home for his 50th international goal and a 2-0 Mexico lead.
In the 75th, Hwang stripped Ochoa of the ball inside the box and sent the Mexican defense scrambling. But the South Koreans couldn't make much out of it.
With South Korea headed for another clean sheet loss, Son, who led all players with nine shot attempts, finally found the back of the net with a pretty curler from the top of the box.
But it was a classic case of too little, too late for his side. (Yonhap)