Mexico fell 2-0 to Brazil on Monday, marking the seventh straight time that El Tri has failed to reach the quarterfinals — or the fifth game — at soccer’s premier tournament.
Mexico last made it that far in 1986, when the nation hosted the World Cup.
This wasn’t to be the year El Tri broke through. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio said afterward that the team should look to better develop players.
“We were able to play quite a balanced game and I think that says a lot about us and our style. In any case, I think we need to keep developing. We hope our players can come to play in Europe so they can play every weekend against the best players in the world and then our national team will improve,” Osorio said.
Mexico did make history in Russia, beating defending champion Germany 1-0 in the group opener. It was Mexico’s first victory over the Germans in a competitive match — and first in any game since 1985. The loss would later figure in Germany’s elimination in Russia.
El Tri also defeated South Korea in the group stage before falling 3-0 to Sweden in the finale. That result, combined with South Korea’s 2-0 shocking upset against Germany, gave Sweden the top spot in the group and made Mexico the runner-up.
For winning the group, Sweden earned a spot against Switzerland to start the knockout round. Mexico got the five-time World Cup champions.
Osorio tweaked his lineup against Brazil and started 39-year-old Rafael Marquez, who was playing in his fifth World Cup. Only two other players have appeared in as many: Mexico’s Antonio Carbajal and Germany’s Lothar Matthaus.
While Mexico attacked furiously for the first 15 minutes of the match, it quickly became clear that striker Javier Hernandez, better known as “Chicharito,” was hurt with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. He eventually was substituted in the 60th minute.
“We leave sad because of the defeat but we had a more than dignified participation at the World Cup and we leave happy because of that,” Hernandez said. “But words are missing because of the defeat.
“The culture in our country is changing so that one day we can be at the level of Brazil and also win two or three World Cups,” he added.
Throughout the tournament, Mexico also got excellent play from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who made eight saves against Brazil to raise his total to a tournament-leading 25.
But he missed two in Monday’s crucial game: Neymar’s goal in the 51st minute and Roberto Firmino’s in the 88th.
During the game Neymar drew attention for his theatrics after he got tangled up with Miguel Layun, who stepped on his ankle. Neymar, who had been widely criticized earlier in the tournament for such displays, rolled on the field in pain.
Osorio was clearly displeased afterward. While not naming Neymar, he said:
“We wasted a lot of time because of one single player. I thought that was a real shame.”
In addition to 1986, Mexico also made the quarterfinals in 1970, when the event was also held in Mexico. El Tri have appeared in 16 total World Cup tournaments.
Four years ago, Brazil and Mexico played to a scoreless draw in their group. Brazil had won the three previous World Cup meetings over Mexico.
Mexico’s last victory over Brazil came in 2012 in a friendly match at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. El Tri memorably won the match 2-0 before a crowd of more than 84,000 fans.
Following Monday’s loss there was already speculation about Osorio, who has held the job since 2015. Many expect him to step down.
“This is the most irrelevant thing right now. It’s the least important thing right now. We just lost a very important match,” Osorio said. “This is very painful for all of us. We’ll need to wait and see what happens over the next few days.”