Mexico find way to end fifth-game curse - not making the fourthTwice it was Argentina who knocked them out, but on Wednesday Mexico were pleading for help from them as they began the night with a mountain to climb from the bottom of Group C.
They call it “la maldicion del quinto Partido” – the curse of the fifth game - but for the first time in the last eight World Cups Mexico depart without even having a shot at ending it after a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia left them in third place and out.
In every tournament since 1994 Mexico have progressed to, been eliminated in, their fourth game in the round of 16, often in the most agonising circumstances.
Twice it was Argentina who knocked them out, but on Wednesday Mexico were pleading for help from them as they began the night with a mountain to climb from the bottom of Group C.
Argentina duly played their part, beating Poland 2-0, and when Henry Martin and Luis Chavez put Mexico 2-0 up against a toothless Saudi Arabia early in the second half, the required four-goal swing had taken place.
However, the two 2-0s took them level with the Poles on goal difference and goals scored and with their head to head group game being drawn, their places in the standings were set to be decided by disciplinary points. On that count, the Poles had the advantage with five bookings to Mexico’s seven.
It was the most obscure of tiebreakers but it might as well have been a 30-yard thunderbolt goal against them, as it meant the same thing – Mexico needed to score again, unless Argentina got a third.
With more than half an hour left they did not panic and continued to build attack after attack as the clock ticked down. Too often, however, the final pass was loose or the finishing wild, and when they did twice get the ball in the net via Hirving Lozano and Uriel Antuna, both efforts were ruled out for offside.
Once the final score from the Argentina game filtered through, the Mexicans threw even more bodies forward in desperation and were caught out on the counter when Salem Al-Dawsari scored for the Saudis.
Heartbreaking though the goal was, it was surely a less painful exit than it would have been without it. Mexico picked up two cards against Poland, one against the Saudis and four against Argentina.
“We are very frustrated. After the first two games we were left with a lot to do and this last one was not enough for us,” Chavez said.
“We didn’t have any goals and we had a lack of attention at the back today and it ended up leaving us out.”
“We will see what happens next, those of us who have to leave this national team, this cannot happen to Mexico. We had set ourselves the goal of the fifth game and we didn’t even reach the fourth.”