Javier Hernandez
Javier Hernandez celebrates one of his two goals for Mexico against Japan. Reuters

A brace from Javier Hernandez saw Mexico end their Confederations Cup on a high note as El Tri beat Japan 2-1 in Belo Horizonte, despite the Manchester United striker also missing a late penalty. Already eliminate from the competition after having taken their stuttering World Cup qualifying form to Brazil with defeats against Italy and the hosts, it was still a much needed win for Mexico and, perhaps more so, for their under-pressure manager Jose Manuel de la Torre.

Following an uninspiring first half, Hernandez headed Mexico in front nine minutes after the break and then doubles his side’s advantage in the 66th minute. A close-range finish from Shinji Okazaki gave Japan hope with four minutes remaining but Mexico were able to hold on for the three points that means they finish Group A in third spot. The result could well be the difference between De la Torre keeping his job or being dismissed, but he will have to lead his side to further improvement when Mexico’s World Cup qualifying campaign in September. Meanwhile, Asian champions Japan will feel hard done by to finish pointless, especially after their agonizing 4-3 defeat to Italy last time out.

Indeed, Japan had again begun the better in this match. After Shinji Kagawa failed to make the most of an early chance, Japan were denied a goal when Okazaki flicked Yasuhito Endo’s shot into the net but was harshly ruled to have been in an offside position. It was Mexico, though, that will perhaps have rued not going into the break in front when Andres Guardado stooped and headed against the post with the goal at his mercy.

The Valencia winger would soon make up for that miss, however. Just after the break he supplied a fine cross that allowed Hernandez to make his trademark near-post run and direct a header into the net to put Mexico in front. The lead was soon 2-0 via another Hernandez header as the poacher-supreme got on the end of Giovani dos Santos’ flicked-on corner.

Japan continued to look strive for at least a point from their time in Brazil and looked like they might get it when Okazaki tuned in Endo’s square ball across the six-yard box. It turned out to be little more than a consolation, although there was still late drama. When Hernandez went down under a challenge from Atsuto Uchida, Hernandez’s hat-trick looked a certainty. But not only did the striker have his spot kick saved by Eiji Kawashima he then slammed the rebound against the crossbar.