LUSAIL, Qatar — Long after the final whistle, Luis Chavez remained crouched on the pitch, anguished.
He had 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. Due to Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Poland in a tie game, Mexico failed to break out of their group for the first time since 1978.
“We had a chance to qualify,” Chavez said sullenly. “We didn’t make it.”
Mexico had reached the round of 16 at the last seven World Cups, second only to Brazil, who have qualified for the round of 16 since 1986.
El Tri came into the game at the Lusail Stadium needing both a win and the help of Poland playing across town against Argentina to advance to Group C. Argentina’s victory meant goal difference kicked in – and Mexico didn’t have enough.
Henry Martin scored in the 48th minute to give El Tri hope, and the side’s chances were further improved with Chavez’s free kick four minutes later.
Mexico tried desperately in the final 20 minutes for another goal – including an 87th-minute effort from Uriel Antuna which was ruled offside – but was unsuccessful.
“We needed one more goal. I didn’t know exactly what happened at the end,” said veteran Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, playing in his fifth World Cup. “For us, the goal was to score three or four goals. It’s a shame.”
Salem Aldawsari scored in second-half stoppage time for Saudi Arabia, who were eliminated with Mexico despite beating Argentina in their opener.
Martin’s goal ended Mexico’s 431-minute World Cup drought, dating back to their second group game at the 2018 tournament in Russia. It was the team’s longest scoreless streak at the tournament.
Mexico opened the tournament in Qatar with a 0-0 draw against Poland and lost 2-0 to Lionel Messi and Argentina.
Mexico had not been knocked out of the group stage since the World Cup in Argentina 44 years ago. El Tri failed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain and was banned from the 1990 event in Italy for using older players in an Under-20 tournament.
“I have to say that I take full responsibility for this massive failure,” Mexico coach Garardo “Tata” Martino said.
Mexico have reached the knockout stages in their last seven appearances – but no further. El Tri came to Qatar aiming to play in an elusive “quinto partido” – a fifth game – for the first time since Mexico hosted the tournament in 1986.
Saudi Arabia had one of the biggest upsets of the tournament when they beat Argentina 2-1. But the Green Falcons couldn’t pull off another upset in their second game, a 2-0 loss to Poland.
The Saudis reached the round of 16 in 1994, the team’s World Cup debut, but have not progressed beyond the group stage since.
“Tonight it was hard to breathe with the intensity that Mexico put into the game,” said Saudi coach Hervé Renard.
Many members of the Saudi squad were also part of the squad that traveled to the 2018 World Cup. But none play outside of their home country. Twelve players on the list are with Al Hilal, who have won a record 18 Saudi league championships.
Mexico dominated the first half. Orbelin Pineda had one of the best of three good chances for El Tri, but it was easily taken away by Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais in the 25th minute.
The game quickly turned in Mexico’s favor with Martin’s goal, but the celebration was snuffed out. Chavez’s free kick in the 52nd that entered the top corner just out of Alowais’ reach caused the Mexican reserves to rush onto the field.
Hirving Lozano nearly scored a third goal but was offside. Chavez netted another missed free-kick as Mexico tried unsuccessfully to score more goals.
Martino had been heavily criticized for his lack of goal. He had previously been asked about some of his choices, including his decision to leave all-time top scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez out of the squad.
Hernandez, who now plays for LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer, scored the team’s final goal in a 2-1 group stage win over South Korea in Russia.
After the game, Martino said his contract with Mexico ended at the final whistle.
Ochoa, however, wasn’t ready to say if he would still be with the team in 2026 when Mexico, USA and Canada host the World Cup.
“We’ll see. We’ll see,” Ochoa said. “Tonight I’m sad so I have to think about it. But maybe it could happen.”
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