Mexico eliminated from World Cup on goal difference despite 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia

LUSAIL, Qatar — Luis Chavez crouched on the field for a long time after the final whistle.

He’d just scored in Mexico’s furious bid to stay alive at the World Cup, but Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia wasn’t enough. Argentina’s 2-0 win over Poland in a simultaneous game saw Mexico inside their group for the first time since 1978.

“We had a chance to qualify,” Chavez said dejectedly. “We haven’t achieved it.”

Mexico have reached the knockout stages of the last seven World Cups, behind Brazil, who have reached the round of 16 since 1986.

El Tri went into the game at the Lusail Stadium needing both a win and the help of Poland, who played Argentina, to advance in Group C. Argentina’s victory meant goal difference came into play – and Mexico didn’t get enough of it.

World Cup in Mexico

Mexico’s Kevin Alvarez retires after the World Cup Group C soccer match between Saudi Arabia and Mexico at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Wednesday November 30, 2022.

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez

Henry Martin scored in the 48th minute to give El Tri hope and the team’s chances increased when Chavez scored a free-kick four minutes later.

Mexico tried desperately to score another goal in the final 20 minutes – including an 87th-minute attempt by Uriel Antuna that was ruled offside – but failed.

“We needed one more goal. I didn’t know exactly what happened in the end,” said veteran Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who was making his fifth appearance at a World Cup. “The goal for us was to score three or four goals. It’s a shame.”

Salem Aldawsari struck in second-half added time for Saudi Arabia, who were eliminated along with Mexico despite beating Argentina in the opening game.

Martin’s goal ended Mexico’s 431-minute goal drought at the World Cup, dating back to their second group game at the 2018 tournament in Russia. It was the longest run without a goal at the tournament so far.

Mexico opened the tournament in Qatar with a 0-0 draw against Poland but lost 2-0 to Lionel Messi and Argentina.

Mexico had not been eliminated from the group stage since the World Cup in Argentina 44 years ago. El Tri did not qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain and was banned from the 1990 event in Italy for using above-average players in an under-20 tournament.

“I have to say that I take full responsibility for this massive failure,” said Mexico coach Garardo “Tata” Martino.

Mexico have progressed to the round of 16 in their last seven appearances – but no further. El Tri arrived in Qatar to take part in an elusive “quinto partido” – a fifth game – for the first time since Mexico hosted the tournament in 1986.

Saudi Arabia suffered one of the biggest upsets of all time at the tournament, beating Argentina 2-1. But the Green Falcons failed to pull off another upset in the second game, a 2-0 loss to Poland.

The Saudis reached the Round of 16 in the side’s World Cup debut in 1994 but have not progressed beyond the group stage since.

“Tonight it was hard to breathe the intensity that Mexico put into the game,” said Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard.

Many members of the Saudi team were also part of the squad that went to the 2018 World Cup. But nobody plays outside of their home country. Twelve players in the squad are at Al Hilal, who have won a record 18 Saudi championships.

Mexico dominated the first half. Orbelin Pineda had one of the best of three good chances for El Tri, but it was easily caught by Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais in the 25th minute.

The game quickly turned in Mexico’s favor with Martin’s goal, but the celebrations were muted. Chavez’s free-kick in the 52nd minute, which went into the top corner just outside of Alowais’ reach, put Mexico’s reserves on the field.

Hirving Lozano almost scored a third goal but he was ruled offside. Chavez had another free-kick that missed as Mexico tried in vain to score more.

Martino had been sharply criticized for not scoring. He had already been questioned about some of his decisions, including his decision to drop top scorer of all time Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from the team.

Hernandez, who now plays for Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy, scored the side’s last goal in the 2-1 group stage win over South Korea in Russia.

After the game, Martino said his contract with the Mexicans expired at the final whistle.

However, Ochoa was unwilling to say if he would still be on the team in 2026 when Mexico, the United States and Canada will host the World Cup.

“We will see. We’ll see,” Ochoa said. “Tonight I’m sad, so I have to think about it. But maybe that could happen.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Mexico eliminated from World Cup on goal difference despite 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia

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