Mission not accomplished.
On Sunday in Fortaleza, Mexico lost a one-goal lead to the Netherlands in the 88th minute, then lost the game entirely on a dubious penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time. This was a brutal defeat by World Cup standards, but for Mexico it was totally normal. For the sixth straight tournament, El Tri made the Round of 16. And for the sixth straight tournament, Mexico lost in the Round of 16.
El Tri last made the quarterfinals in 1986, when the World Cup was held on Mexican soil. That year, the Mexicans defeated Bulgaria 2-0 in the Round of 16 before succumbing to West Germany on penalties in the quarters. Mexico was banned from the 1990 World Cup for using overage players in a youth tournament, and so the sad streak of knockout round knockouts begins at the 1994 tournament, held in the United States.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Carlisle writes that “trying to pick out the most depressing chapter in El Tri’s round of 16 history is like trying to recall the most painful root canal.” For Mexico, it’s not just about pain. It’s also about blame. Whenever any team loses in the World Cup, recriminations are sure to follow. Mexico has just had more chances than most to throw people under el autobús, whether it’s the coach, the referee, the other team, or a more inventive choice.
In 1994, Bulgaria got its revenge on Mexico, winning on penalties. Several Mexican players complained that coach Miguel Mejía Barón had screwed up by refusing to bring on fresh substitutes during extra time, and for playing for the tie instead of the win. “I felt very, very impotent,” said veteran Hugo Sanchez, who never got into the game. “I was very angry. I do not understand.”
Four years later in France, El Tri blew a late lead to Germany, giving up late goals to future U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff. After this defeat, coach Manuel Lapuente actually put on a happy face. “We lost, which would be the bad news,” he said after the game. “The good news is the performance we gave. I think we played a great game anyway. We scored, and I think that’s very important.” So, who was to blame this time around? Mexican fans. “I ask all those people at home who did not believe in us to say sorry and to recognize we are Mexicans and very proud,” said goal scorer Luis Hernandez.
The most painful root canal may have come in 2002, when Mexico lost to the United States by the famous score of dos a cero. How does it feel to be the victim of your dreaded rival’s greatest modern World Cup triumph? Not so great. The BBC quoted a Mexican fan saying, “There has to be an end to this disgrace where they [Americans] treat us like rats and idiots.” Mexico coach Javier Aguirre blamed his team’s downfall on a missed call, as El Tri should’ve been awarded a penalty when American John O’Brien handled the ball in the box. Aguirre had a point. (For what it’s worth, the Americans were victimized by a similar missed call in the next round.) Aguirre also said that the U.S. adopted an unsporting, overly defensive posture, saying that “they didn’t want to play, they didn’t let us play.” This was … not such a great point.
In 2006, Mexico lost in extra time to Argentina on one of the best strikes in World Cup history, this chest-to-left-foot screamer by Maxi Rodriguez.
Mexico again complained about the referee, this time for failing to give Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze a red card for taking down El Tri’s José Fonseca on a breakaway. Again, Mexico had a good case. “Always it goes for Argentina,” striker Jared Borgetti said after the match. “For FIFA and the World [Cup] the Argentina jersey is more important in comparison to Mexico. They are good players. But for me, in this match Mexico plays better.” Perhaps Borgetti didn’t get a good look at that Maxi Rodriguez strike.
Four years ago, Mexico lost to Argentina again, this time by the more decisive margin of 3-1. On the first Argentina goal, though, Carlos Tevez was clearly offside. “I know I was offside, I know it was selfish but as long as they say it was a goal it’s OK for me and the team,” Tevez said. “A great team like this Argentina side doesn’t need this kind of help,” countered Mexico’s Rafa Márquez. “What more can I say? We are sad because of the way it happened, there is not a reason to be happy.”
Today, Herrera singled out Arjen Robben’s pratfalls in his post-match interview, saying that the Dutch player dove three times, including on the play where he drew the decisive penalty. The Mexican coach also had harsh words for referee Pedro Proença, saying, “If the referee is fair, their second goal would not exist and Robben would be ejected.” The New York Times’ Sam Borden reports that Herrera added, “We will leave tomorrow or the day after. We believe the referee should be going home too.”
But wait, there’s enough blame for everyone! “This was a World Cup where everyone was against Mexico all the time,” Herrera said, sketching a larger conspiracy, perhaps one that includes the wide-ranging outcry against El Tri fans’ homophobic puto chant. (Sorry, Miguel—we have no sympathy for you in that regard.)
In the interest of equal time, here’s a compelling counterargument:
Herrera’s claim that everyone was against Mexico this time around doesn’t hold much water. It would be more accurate to say that this was just like every other World Cup of the last two decades: Mexico loses, Mexico lashes out at everyone, and Mexico often has a legitimate beef with the referee. And now, Mexico has to wait four years to try to stop the knockout streak at six.