World Cup Daily: Mexico has a new curse

After each matchday of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Sportsnet.ca’s World Cup Daily blog will recap the day’s events and look ahead to the next day’s slate of games.            

Here’s what happened on Wednesday in Qatar, in case you missed it…            

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THE RESULTS            

France 0, Tunisia 1 in Al Rayyan: Match report || Match stats  

Australia 1, Denmark 0 in Al Wakrah: Match report || Match stats  

Poland 0, Argentina 2 in Doha: Match report || Match stats  

Saudi Arabia 1, Mexico 2 in Lusail: Match report || Match stats

Teams moving on: France and Australia (Group D), Argentina and Poland (Group C)  

Eliminated teams: Tunisia and Denmark (Group D), Mexico and Saudi Arabia (Group C)  

Round of 16 matches: France vs. Poland and Argentina vs. Australia  

MAIN TALKING POINT            

Mexico plagued by a new World Cup curse 

It’s known as the “quinto partido” — or fifth game — curse. You’ve likely never heard of it, but the Mexican national team is all too familiar with it.

At every World Cup dating back to the 1994 tournament, Mexico has bowed out in the round of 16, unable to get over the hump of the fourth match to move on to the quarter-finals.

Seven World Cup qualifications in a row for El Tri. Seven consecutive eliminations in the round of 16. You could set your watch by Mexico’s World Cup exits. Only twice have the Mexicans made it to the quarter-finals: in 1970 and 1986 when they hosted the competition. 

Every World Cup, Mexico hopes to break the five-game curse. But the curse lives on — it just goes by another name after the Mexicans saw their campaign in Qatar come to a dramatic end on Wednesday, despite earning a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in Group C.

That final score, coupled with Poland’s 2–0 loss to Argentina in the other group games, meant the Mexicans and Polish finished tied on four points, but Poland had the edge in goal difference: 0 vs. minus-1. As a result, Mexico was eliminated in the group stage for the first time since 1978.   

Mexico is going home after three games, and its reputation as the World Cup’s greatest under-achievers remains firmly intact. On the surface, Mexico’s trip home came about due to the slimmest of margins. But in reality, they got exactly what they deserved — an early trip home.

The Mexicans failed to impress in their opening 0-0 draw against Poland and were then thoroughly outclassed in a 2-0 setback against Argentina. That it took until the third game against a modest Saudi Arabia side for the Concacaf giants to put their best foot forward — and finally score a goal — tells you all you need to know about this Mexican side that is big on star power but remains somewhat short on genuine quality. 

Mexico only has itself to blame after its tepid beginning to the group stage, and one wonders what’s in store for manager Tata Martino, seeing as the Argentine is the first manager not to lead El Tri out of the group stage at the World Cup in 44 years.

Changing coaches might not be the worst course of action for the Mexicans. But there must also be a realization that despite its standing as one of the top teams in Concacaf, Mexico is simply not among the truly elite nations in the world. Figuring out a way to break through that barrier should be the country’s top priority as it prepares to co-host the World Cup in four years’ time with Canada and the United States.

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GOAL OF THE DAY            

In the 60th minute, Australia won the ball inside its penalty area and quickly launched a counterattack. Mathew Leckie took a pass from Riley McGree near the centre circle and then went on a great run before sidestepping a Danish defender inside the box and scoring on a left-footed shot inside the far post past goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel 

MOMENT OF THE DAY            

Two legends shake hands before facing off against each other: 

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“It will be a good lesson for them. Now they know what the highest level is all about, against a Tunisia team that was supercharged. But we were too timid, late in the tackle and made technical errors.” – France manager Didier Deschamps, after the reigning World Cup champions were upset by Tunisia. 

FIVE PACK OF STATS

• Denmark failed to score in the first half in each of its three group-stage matches at the World Cup for the first time in history. 

• Enzo Fernández (21 years and 317 days) is the youngest player to start a World Cup game for Argentina’s men’s team since Lionel Messi vs. the Netherlands in 2006 (18 years and 362 days).      

• Lionel Messi is now Argentina’s all-time appearance leader (22) at the World Cup, surpassing Diego Maradona (21).

• Luis Chaves’s strike was the first goal from a direct free kick for the Mexican men’s team at the World Cup since 1966. 

• The Mexican men’s team has only scored more than three goals in a World Cup game in one of its last 18 matches.      

Stats courtesy of Opta            

THREE STARS OF THE DAY

1) Enzo Fernández (Argentina): He set up Argentina’s winning goal and was simply sublime in the heart of midfield, completing 91.7 per cent of his passes and making two tackles. 

2) Luis Chaves (Mexico): He was his team’s best attacking threat on the day and scored on a fabulous free kick.  

3) Mathew Leckie (Australia): The veteran attacker scored a brilliant winning goal to send his team through to the round of 16 for only the second time.  

LOOKING AHEAD TO THURSDAY            

Four more games on tap for tomorrow, highlighted by Canada taking on Morocco and Croatia facing Belgium (both at 10 a.m. ET) in Group F action. Having scored its first goal at the World Cup, the Canadian men will try to earn their first-ever point at the competition, while a victory by either Croatia or Belgium would assure them of a spot in the round of 16.

In Group E, Japan takes on Spain and Germany goes up against Costa Rica (both at 2 p.m. ET). While Spain looks poised to move on, Germany is on the brink of an early exit – a loss or draw would result in its elimination at the group stage for a second straight time. 

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

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