Mexico fell painfully short of the last 16 of the World Cup as a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia at Lusail Stadium left them behind Poland on goal difference.
Salem Al Dawsari’s stoppage-time consolation sealed El Tri’s elimination, although they were already on their way out by an even finer margin.
An inferior fair play record to Poland, who had already lost 2-0 to Argentina, was set to separate the sides until that point.
Mexico still had two minutes in which to add a decisive third to second-half strikes from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez but the goal they had chased for so long proved beyond them.
Tata Martino’s men perhaps paid for not making more of a first half they dominated, going closest when Mohammed Al Owais denied Alexis Vega in the third minute.
The second period initially went according to plan as Cesar Montes flicked Chavez’s corner into the centre of the six-yard box, where Martin could not miss.
One quickly became two thanks to a sensational Chavez free-kick but Hirving Lozano and substitute Uriel Antuna saw potentially precious goals ruled out for offside, leaving Mexico agonisingly short heading into stoppage time.
Full-time in the Poland match was followed by Al Dawsari strolling through to net an effort that ultimately meant little but felt like a heartbreaker for Mexico.
What does it mean? Tiebreakers tease El Tri
Mexico were so, so close to reaching the knockout stage at an eighth consecutive tournament.
Although it was their goal difference, rather than their fair play record, that ultimately saw them eliminated, El Tri would not have needed to chase a third goal and leave gaps at the back had they not earned seven yellow cards to Poland’s five.
Only once — in 2018, when Japan edged ahead of Senegal — had the fair play tiebreaker previously been enforced and as on that occasion, it felt desperately cruel on Mexico as the seconds ticked down prior to the late goal.
Chavez’s one-man show
Mexico had not scored in their previous four World Cup matches but Chavez appeared determined to end that run.
The midfielder attempted a remarkable nine shots — scoring with one free-kick and drawing a strong save from another — albeit they had a combined worth of 0.3 expected goals as he repeatedly tried his luck from distance.
Main man goes missing
While Chavez sought to drag Mexico through, Saudi Arabia’s talisman went missing until the final seconds.
Al Dawsari may have belatedly scored his third World Cup goal — a joint-record for Saudi Arabia — but he had failed to influence the game to that point. That was only his second shot and came far too late to rescue Saudi Arabia’s own hopes of progression.
Key Opta Facts:
Mexico have been eliminated in the group stages of the World Cup for the first time since 1978 — they had progressed from the group stages in each of their previous eight participations.
Saudi Arabia have been eliminated in the group stages for the fifth time in six participations at the World Cup (1998, 2002, 2006, 2018 and 2022). The exception was in 1994 when they reached the Round of 16.
Mexico have won five of their six matches against Saudi Arabia in all competitions (D1), with this their first game against them since a 5-1 win in the Confederations Cup in 1999.
Mexico’s Henry Martin scored his country’s first goal at the 2022 World Cup — it was their 29th effort at goal at the tournament.
Both Mexico and Saudi Arabia — and their considerable legions of travelling supporters — will head home, with El Tri no doubt seeking to avoid any mention of Poland’s last-16 tie against France.
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