The last two years have been awfully horrible for Mexican football as Mexico lost the CONCACAF Nations League and Gold Cup finals in the Summer of 2021, finished behind Canada and lost the head to head to both Canada (0-0-2) and the USA (0-1-1) in 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, and to throw in insult to injury, American clubs overtook the Mexican domination of the CONCACAF Champions League when Seattle Sounders won it in 2022.
For all in tense and purposes, the USA were now the Kings, or dare I say it, the Presidents of North America, and for many people, even Canada was now better than Mexico!
So, understandably, Mexicans did not have much faith in their team to make the knockout rounds.
And the lost opportunity 0-0 tie to Poland and the disappointing 0-2 loss to Argentina left Mexico with not just a feeling of disappointment, but also a reality of disappointment.
For Mexico, one has to remember that they have been one of the most consistent and decorated national teams in the history of the sport, but their fans’ expectations often leave good performances under valued. However, going into their last match of Group C against Saudi Arabia, this time, their fans’ feelings were much more legitimate. It really was an abysmal situation for such a talented nation.
But, Mexico really left it all on the pitch and played a match that we all remember the usual Mexico would play.
While the 1st half was a scoreless tie, Mexico had many chances that easily could have gone it. The Saudi Arabian goalkeeper, Mohammed Al-Owais, had a very good match.
But, in the 2nd half, Mexico came alive!
Henry Martín scored in the 47th Minute and then Luis Chávez had what probably would have been the Goal of the Tournament had Mexico advanced with an unbelievable free kick goal in the 52nd Minute.
In the meantime, Argentina came alive, which meant that instead of just winning, Mexico needed to win by many goals, or have Argentina win by many. Luckily for Mexico, Argentina needed to keep scoring too and they scored in the 46th Minute.
With the way Mexico were playing, two more goals seemed doable, which is what the Mexicans needed to advance out of Group C!
But, Mexico would have two goals called back for offsides, including one that was probably just a shoulder blade or a toe offsides! Heartbreaking indeed.
But you could feel it. Mexico was playing with passion! The Mexican fans were supporting with passion. And once again, the neutrals were tuning into Mexico hoping to see a comeback from a side that has given the world so many spectacular footballing moments in the past.
The Mexico we have all grown to expect was back!
And then, in the 67th Minute, Argentina scored again!
Now all Mexico needed was for either Mexico or Argentina to score one more goal!
Mexico and Poland were tied on almost everything, except fair play points, as Poland had less yellow cards, so essentially, Mexico could have hoped for Polish yellow cards too.
Mexico kept pushing and gave it everything they had!
While Argentina dominated Poland with 23 (12) shots to Poland’s 4 (0) and 74% possession to Poland’s 26%, Mexico dominated Saudi Arabia with 26 (11) shots to Saudi Arabia’s 10 (2) and with 61% possession to Saudi Arabia’s 39%. And these stats were not even fully telling of the Mexican and Argentinian domination.
However, just like Mohammed Al-Owais was having a match of the tournament, so too was Poland’s goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczęsny, who had already saved a penalty kick from Argentina’s Lionel Messi in the 1st half.
And as the Argentina-Poland match finished with Argentina winning 2-0, Mexico finally conceded after pushing so far up, and went onto win 2-1. Mexico was eliminated.
Mexico won the battle, but lost the war as many people commented across social media.
But, while this is true, it sort of is not.
And this is where Mexico needs to seek both improvement and perspective.
See, Mexico needs to seek improvement because they are too good of a football nation and too big of a football nation not to be challenging for a World Cup.
Yes, Mexico has issues with drug cartels and corruption, but frankly, there are plenty of Latin American nations, such as Brazil and Argentina, that are actually in statically worse positions than them on issues regarding overall livelihood.
And, while Mexico does have less people than Brazil, they have more than 70 million more people than Argentina, and that is not even including the Mexican diaspora where a lot of the money and player pool comes from for Mexican football, particularly from the USA.
So, for Mexico, it is not that they do not have the essentials, they do!
And in terms of talent, let us really look at the numbers.
Mexico had gone to 7 straight knockout rounds at the World Cup, a record only surpassed by Brazil (8, now 9) in that span. In fact, Mexico only did not go to more because after their 1986 Quater-final and overall 6th Place finish, they were banned from the 1990 World Cup during the Qualifiers.
Mexico had also won an Olympic Gold Medal (2012) in that span, and not by using the loophole non-European and non-South American nations have gotten to use since the 1930s, and a Confederations Cup (1999)!
And, at the continental level, Mexico has dominated even more, winning a record 11 North American Championships, only third all-time in continental championships behind Argentina and Uruguay, both with 15.
And as far as club football, Mexican clubs have won a record 37 continental championships in North America, far more than any other country at the club level, with Argentina having 25 as the second closest.
This nation has been legit!
But, they still are. And this is what Mexicans should understand when looking at the failure to reach the knockout stages.
When we look at Mexican football, most of us, Mexicans included, think complacency.
Mexico has been so blessed to be a consistent Top 10 team in the world, but now, after losing two continental finals, one continental club final, and failing to get out of the Group Stage at the World Cup for the first time since 1986, Mexico will be keen to fix what is broken.
All Mexicans will be investigating and trying to come up with a way to spark change.
And for a reference point, the best World Cup performances Mexico has had have come after either group stage elimination or failures to qualify for the World Cup, as well as World Cups they have hosted.
In 1966, Mexico (0-2-1; 2) finished 3rd place in Group 1 behind England (2-1-0; 5) and Uruguay (1-2-0; 4), and in front of France (0-1-2; 1), leaving Mexico in 12th place overall out of 16 Qualified nations.
And then in 1970, Mexico (2-1-0; 5) hosted the World Cup and finished 2nd in Group A due to a drawing of lots as a tiebreaker behind the USSR (2-1-0; 5), and in front of Belgium (1-0-2; 2) and El Salvador (0-0-3; 0). Mexico would lose in the Quarter-finals against eventually runners-up, Italy, thus finishing 6th overall.
In 1982, Mexico (1-3-1; 5) failed to qualify for the World Cup, finishing 3rd place in the 1981 CONCACAF Championship behind Honduras (3-2-0; 8) and El Salvador (2-2-1; 6).
But, then in 1986, Mexico (2-1-0; 5) hosted the World Cup and finished 1st in Group B, in front of Paraguay (1-2-0; 4), Belgium (1-1-1; 3), and Iraq (0-0-3; 0). In the Round of 16, Mexico beat Bulgaria 2-0, and made it to the Quarter-finals, failing to advance against eventual runners-up West Germany on penalty kick shootouts, 1-4, after a scoreless draw, finishing in 6th place overall.
Therefore, as co-hosts for the 2026 World Cup with the USA and Canada, Mexico should expect vast improvement and a run at the World Cup.
But even more importantly, Mexico are actually in a much better place than so many other nations.
For example, the worst two years of Mexican football for some time will most likely see Mexico finish in the Top 20 of the World Cup, 2nd place in North America for the Gold Cup, Nations League, and World Cup Qualifiers, as well as a Mexican club winning and finishing 2nd place in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Combine this with the fact that Mexico were knocked out of the World Cup by the closest of margins and have earned the respect of pundits worldwide, as a nation that should have advanced and were unlucky too, Mexico needs to realize that their 32 year low is many other nation’s high point in their whole history.
This is not to say that Mexico does not need changes.
Rather, what this is to say is that Mexico should not feel ashamed, rather they should feel motivation to conquer more than they previously have.
Because, when looking at all the variables, this nation has the expertise to do so.
And what is even more spectacular from a purely home-grown point of view is the fact that Mexico featured 25 Mexican born players of the 26 total, and 17 played in LigaMX.
And, their Group C performance was done without star player Jesús Corona who suffered an injury before the World Cup started, as well as star youngster Diego Lainez, and featured a Raúl Jiménez who is still recovering from a horrific injury.
These facts show that Mexico is not really in the dust bin of history, rather it is a nation that is still seeing massive success, just not at the level Mexico itself is used to.
And the last point is the fact that because the USA is doing so well, many Mexicans find this as a detriment to their ego of being the top team of the continent, plus, it is their rival. However, improvement from the USA and other CONCACAF nations is a major plus for the development of football in Mexico for competition outside of the continent. As LigaMX and MLS collab more, there will be more money and better competition, creating better players. And, the same goes for revamped and expanded CONCACAF competitions at both club level and national team levels.
These facts show that the nation to have qualified for the fifth most World Cups all-time (17), and one of only eight nations to have won two of the three most important world tournaments (World Cup, Olympics, and Confederations Cup), is still a thriving football nation. This perspective should signal to Mexico that this elimination can and should be a chance to reevaluate to the level needed to reach World Cup Semi-finals and further.