Javier Hernandez of Mexico celebrates scoring against France on Thursday. ((David Cannon/Getty Images))

Javier Hernandez netted the winning goal to guide Mexico to a 2-0 victory over France Thursday at the FIFA World Cup in Group A action.

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The main storyline

The Mexicans struck a blow for CONCACAF pride, slaying the European hotshots on a chilly night in Polokwane, South Africa.

With the win, the Mexicans took a big step toward second round qualification, while the French are in big trouble, having failed to score a single goal at this tournament.

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After watching his side labour to a 0-0 draw against Uruguay, French coach Raymond Domenech switched to a more attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, bringing in Florent Malouda for midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, and slotting in chief playmaker Franck Ribery in the hole behind lone front man Nicolas Anelka.

But the tactical switch didn't work. The Mexicans did a good job of handcuffing Ribery, while Anelka sleepwalked his way through the game before being substituted at the start of the second half.

The Mexicans played with more urgency than their opponents right from the opening kickoff, and weren't rewarded for their efforts until the 64th minute when Hernandez sneaked past the French defence and scored his first goal of the tournament.

That goal sent El Tri on their way to recording a historic win over Les Bleus, as the Mexicans were winless in three previous games between the two sides — France beat Mexico in 1930 and again in 1954, and the teams drew in 1966.

The winning goal

Captain Rafa Marquez played a long pass up the middle past the cement-footed French defence to Hernandez. Once he was sprung free, the Mexican striker simply skipped past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris before slotting the ball into the empty net. Was Hernandez offside? It looked like he was — by a hair — but he played to the whistle, unlike the French. 

Turning point of the game

France staggered through the majority of the match before being floored by Hernandez's goal. Fifteen minutes later, Pablo Barrera was fouled inside the box, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco converted from the penalty spot to knock out the French for good.

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What this result means

With four points each, Uruguay and Mexico are tied for first place in Group A, ahead of France and South Africa (one point apiece).

Uruguay plays Mexico in the final round of group-stage games, with the winner moving on to the round of 16. Both teams can also advance if the match ends in a tie.

France meets South Africa with both countries needing a win to have a shot at qualifying for the second round. Both teams will be eliminated from contention if they battle to a draw.

Man of the match

Hernandez was superb for Mexico, asking serious questions of the French defence and scoring the decider.

Goal of the match

Full credit goes to Hernandez who slipped past the French defence and remained composed in the one-on-one breakaway on Lloris.

The Mexican perspective

"We have to enjoy this win. We have to go step-by-step and be calm." — Rafa Marquez

The French perspective

"We're not going to go out of this tournament without winning a match. It's shameful to lose like that. It's a question of saving our honour." — winger Florent Malouda

Next up

France takes on South Africa in Bloemfontein on June 22 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9:30 a.m. ET), while Mexico meets Uruguay on the same day in Rustenburg (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9:30 a.m. ET).