Another World Cup for Mexico and another Round of 16 has Mexico fans distraught. While Mexico is the only team along with Brazil to qualify to the Round of 16 for seven straight World Cups, Mexico has gone out in the Round of 16 all 7 times. In this tournament it was Brazil who knocked out Mexico with a 2-0 win. Although Mexico was having a good run of games against Brazil in recent years, which made fans hopeful to finally break that streak, Brazil was good enough to beat Mexico in a game where, although El Tri played well at times, they never really threatened the Verde-Amarela.
Fans were pessimistic about the national team falling once again at the same hurdle, and once again criticism rained on the national team and coach Juan Carlos Osorio. It’s the same story over and over again but it lies on a unrealistic expectation fans have that makes them more frustrated each time. While it’s incredibly frustrating to not be able to get through to the next round, Mexico fans and players shouldn’t be surprised at all because the fact is that Mexico is not a Quarterfinal team. To be a Quarterfinal team, a lot of things have to go right, and the fact of the matter is that if Mexico wants to be a Quarterfinal team, they have to do the “work” and they never do. Instead they expect to get lucky and strike gold.
In many things, not just football, Mexicans are fans of wanting instant results. A lot of the times they want those without doing the work needed to accomplish them. If we are being honest, Mexican football has shown to be of superior quality to many things Mexico produces, as Mexico is not in the top-16 worldwide category in a lot of things. But Mexico’s obsession with the “Quinto Partido” (5th game) and their failure to get there again has a lot of fans crying foul on the national team. The reality is that Mexico more or less finishes at their level. They don’t produce the quality needed to be a QF team.
A lot was said about how this Mexican team was the most talented in their history because it had an almost all European-based squad. While this is true for Mexico, it fails to acknowledge that Mexico isn’t an island. Yes, Mexico has grown in this category, but other teams are doing a lot better at that than Mexico and it isn’t enough. For example, Mexico had a lot of European-based players, but most of them weren’t stars for big teams. Hirving Lozano and Hector Herrera probably had the better seasons in Europe, but they did so for big teams in European leagues outside of the top 5 (Dutch and Portuguese league). The biggest team where a Mexican played was probably Miguel Layun at Sevilla and he was nowhere close to being a star.
For the most part, Quarterfinal teams have that covered. Brazil had Neymar, who is one of the top-5 best players on earth, and a stacked lineup of guys in top teams. Their second goal was scored by Firmino, a bench player with Brazil but a top striker with Champions League runner-up Liverpool. If he was Mexican, he would be the top star of the team. What is normal for a bench in Brazil is almost the equivalent of the highlight of the the top two players in recent European travels (Chicharito and Rafael Marquez). Another way that this hits Mexico is in terms of injuries. Brazil had their star left back Marcelo out for the Mexico game. In his place came Filipe Luis, a starter with Atletico Madrid. On the other hand, Mexico had Hector Moreno out because of suspension and had to play Hugo Ayala. Sure, Ayala had a great game against Germany, but his career with the National Team has always been subpar and once again had a bad game, including a mistake that led to the second goal. The Tigres defender never made a move to Europe and his international career has been average at best, but because of the lack of options, he was needed to replace Moreno and the already missing Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo through injuries.. If Mexico doesn’t improve in this, they will continue to be weak at the dangers of injuries and suspensions. For Mexico to be a Quarterfinal team, they should have more players in Europe and for them to be more successful.
A key to getting more players in Europe and just to flat out be a good footballing nation is to work with youth players. Mexico’s 2005 U-17 World Cup title was a key to break a historically bad approach towards youth teams, but it really didn’t help the void. Instead, Mexico became a powerhouse at the U-17 level but that success has never translated to the senior national team at all. Many people criticize the 2005 U-17 team for not taking Mexico to the next level, but it was actually very successful generation of players. It gave Mexico a couple of World Cup caliber players who had a lot of success with the National team (Gio Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Hector Moreno, and Efrain Juarez). The same team is even more valuable if you take into account it became the U-20 Quarterfinal team in Canada 2 years later and added Chicharito Hernandez and Pablo Barrera. On the other hand, the 2011 U-17 World Cup winning team has been more of a bust, and right now you will struggle to find players of those team impacting their Liga MX clubs, let alone the National team. The 2013 U-17 World Cup team that finished in second place is going through the same path, although of that team, Omar Govea was at least close to making the 2018 World Cup team. Mexican teams’ lack of opportunities to youth players, along with their inability to bring up youth players and translate their success to the senior team is a big hindrance to the team becoming a Quarterfinal team. Teams like France and Belgium have produced similar or better talent as Mexico but have done a lot better job at transforming them to quality level for their clubs and national teams. It’s not as surprising that they are Semifinalist teams while Mexico isn’t. If Mexico wants to be a Quarterfinal team, it’s not enough to produce winning teams at their youth level but to transform them into good senior team material.
Finally, Mexico has too look at competition. While Mexico has more players in Europe than before, it has really not looked overly superior to past Mexican teams. A lot of it can be explained in the amount of competition they had. Teams like the Mexico team from the 90s with Luis Hernandez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco had a lot of experience in Copa Americas. On the other hand, a lot of star players like Chicharito, Herrera and Moreno only have one Copa America played, the Centenario one played in the US. The last time Mexico played a Copa America with a competitive squad in South America was 11 years ago in 2007, where veteran Andres Guardado was only playing in his second year with the national team. In this sense, Mexico has taken a step back and will continue to do sa as they weren’t invited to the next Copa America.
In the end, Mexico doesn’t have enough quality European players, does a poor job of producing youth talent and then transforming it to senior team success, and each time has less competitions outside of the World Cup. All of this is the work Mexico isn’t doing and needs to do to become a Quarterfinal team. In the same time frame, other teams have gotten to the Quarterfinals like Senegal, Turkey, South Korea and Costa Rica, but in the end, outside of those runs they have never reached the level of consistency of a Mexico. It’s incredibly frustrating, but Mexico is a good team. For for the most part, (aside from 1994 and 2002), they have always lost out to the better team, and an El Tri win would have been considered a huge upset. If Mexico wants to move to the next level, they have to do the work to earn it. The same way they earned their status as a Round of 16 team. They need to do the work to get to the next level and they simply haven’t done that.