LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — For a long time after the final whistle, Luis Chavez crouched on the field in anguish.
He had just scored in Mexico’s furious attempt to stay alive at the World Cup, but the 2-1 victory Wednesday over Saudi Arabia wasn’t enough. Because of Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Poland in a simultaneous match, Mexico failed to advance out of its group for the first time since 1978.
“We had a chance to qualify,” Chavez said glumly. “We didn’t achieve it.”
Mexico had reached the knockout round at the last seven World Cups, second only to Brazil, which has gone through to the round of 16 since 1986.
El Tri went into the match at Lusail Stadium needing both a victory and help from Poland playing across town against Argentina to advance in Group C. Argentina’s victory meant goal difference came into play — and Mexico didn’t have enough of them.
Henry Martin scored in the 48th minute to give El Tri hope, and the team’s chances got even better with Chavez’s goal on a free kick four minutes later.
Mexico tried desperately in the final 20 minutes to get another goal — including an effort by Uriel Antuna in the 87th minute that was ruled offside — but came up short.
“We needed one more goal. I didn’t know exactly what happened at the end,” said veteran Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who was playing in his fifth World Cup. “For us, the object was to score three or four goals. It’s a shame.”
Salem Aldawsari scored in second-half stoppage time for Saudi Arabia, which was eliminated along with Mexico despite beating Argentina in its opening match.
Martin’s goal ended Mexico’s 431-minute scoring drought at the World Cup, dating back to their second group match at the 2018 tournament in Russia. It was the team’s longest ever stretch without a goal at the tournament.
Mexico opened the tournament in Qatar with a 0-0 draw against Poland and but fell 2-0 to Lionel Messi and Argentina.
Mexico hadn’t been eliminated from the group stage since the World Cup in Argentina 44 years ago. El Tri didn’t qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and was banned from the 1990 event in Italy for using overage players at an under-20 tournament.
“I must say that I assume all the responsibility for this massive failure,” Mexico coach Garardo “Tata” Martino said.
Mexico advanced to the round of 16 in its last seven appearances — but no further. El Tri came to Qatar looking 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 tournament’s biggest ever upsets ever when it beat Argentina 2-1. But the Green Falcons couldn’t pull off another surprise in its second match, a 2-0 loss to Poland.
The Saudis reached the round of 16 back in 1994, the team’s World Cup debut, but haven’t made it past the group stage since.
“Tonight it was difficult to breathe with the intensity Mexico put into the match,” Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard said.
Many on the Saudi team were also part of the squad that went to the 2018 World Cup. But none play outside of their home country. Twelve players on the roster are with Al Hilal, which has 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 grabbed by Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Alowais in the 25th minute.
The game turned quickly in Mexico’s favor with Martin’s goal, but the celebration was muted. Chavez’s free kick in the 52nd that went into the upper corner just out of Alowais’ reach brought Mexico’s reserves rushing onto the field.
Hirving Lozano nearly had a third goal but he was offside. Chavez had another free kick that missed as Mexico tried in vain to score more goals.
Martino had been roundly criticized for the lack of scoring. He had already been questioned over some of his choices, including his decision to leave all-time leading scorer Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez off the team.
Hernandez, who now plays for the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer, scored the team’s last goal in a 2-1 group-stage victory over South Korea in Russia.
After the match, Martino said his contract with the Mexico had ended with the final whistle.
Ochoa, however, wasn’t ready to say if he’d still be with the team in 2026 when Mexico, the United States and Canada will host the World Cup.
“We will see. We will see,” Ochoa said. “Tonight I’m sad so I have to think about that. But maybe that could happen.”
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