1. Mexico are just not good enough. Let’s get straight to the point. Mexico are just not good enough. There is no shame in losing to a better side. Brazil was just mentally tougher, tactically better, and when they felt like it, technically superior. Mexico are a Top-16 side in the World for sure, but beyond that, it’s a stretch. Juan Carlos Osorio was right when he pointed out there isn’t a single Mexican player playing in one of the Top-5 teams in one of the Top-4 leagues in the world. As they say, there is levels to it.
2. Objectives weren’t met. The other blatantly obvious thing to point out is that Mexico’s goal of reaching the “Quinto Partido” wasn’t met. That means that, at least on paper, this World Cup was a failure. It probably won’t be taken as such, but the reality is this was something that was planned for four years, and at the end, Mexico was once again booted in the Round of 16. Getting out of the group stage in seven straight tournaments is an amazing feat, sure, but you can’t really argue that Mexico showed growth when you are always eliminated in the same stage.
3. Mentally, the Mexican player is still not there. To reiterate, Mexico is a Top-16 side in the world, and historically, they have been able to outclass past champions like France and Germany in this tournament. In fact, technically you can argue that Mexico are a Top-10 side in the world, with only the very best able to beat El Tri in that department. Physically, we all know they struggle against sides like Sweden, but it is mentally where Mexico tend to push the self-destruct button the most.
From the onset, Andres Guardado added further pressure to the match when he called out Neymar for his theatrics in his pregame press conference. While this is no secret, you get the feeling that you are playing into your opponent’s hand when you say those type of comments. In the actual match, Neymar scored the opener and celebrated by “shhhing”. Then later in the game, Neymar and Thiago Silva performed these “theatrics” for the world to see, all with the purpose of getting into the opponent’s heads. While you have to give the Mexican players for not going crazy, given the outrage from Juan Carlos Osorio at the end of the match, you can tell it affected them one way or another.
It is in their gameplay, however, where this lack of mental fortitude is most evident. You can compare this to Brazil’s game versus Serbia. With all due respect, Serbia is an inferior team to Mexico, but despite their lack of technical quality and being down in the scoreline, they continued to play their game and style of play. For a team that likes to keep possession, Mexico couldn’t even string more than three passes together before losing the ball. Most frustrating of all, it almost seemed like Brazil were showing Mexico too much respect by sitting back, and El Tri still weren’t able to create any major chances. As we say in castellano, “hay formas”. This wasn’t even a “jugamos como nunca, perdimos como siempre” moment. It was a disappointing way to go out.
4. Mexico missed a proper defensive midfielder. This is why it is so important to get your 23-man roster right in the beginning of the tournament. You can understand why some people asked for Jose Juan “Gallito” Vazquez to be included, but a more realistic option would have been Jesus Molina. For a second World Cup running, Jesus Molina could have really been used in the Round of 16 game. If the plan without Hector Moreno, who was suspended for this match, was to use Rafael Marquez as an extra center back/defensive midfielder and Edson Alvarez as a right back, it was never a sustainable one for 90 minutes. Molina is not exactly the best defensive midfielder in the world, but when all you need is the basics, there was nobody in the Mexico roster with his characteristics. Osorio never saw Molina as somebody capable of playing that Rafa Marquez/Diego Reyes role, all of this despite praising his aerial ability in the past and at the same time plugging in Reyes and Edson Alvarez for those same characteristics. Obviously, Reyes didn’t make it to this World Cup through injury, but it wasn’t like Mexico didn’t have the depth to add more flexibility in that position.
5. Mexico stopped doing what they were good at. You can frame it whatever way you want, but at the end of the day, Mexico simply stopped doing what they were good at.
For starters, we talk about a “Golden Generation”, but one thing that marked this team from past national teams is their talent in wide positions. Never in El Tri’s history has there been so many talented players on the wing. With players like Neymar and Willian, Brazil are no doubt kings at this, but through Hirving Lozano and Carlos Vela, El Tri did a good job to put pressure on Brazil’s fullbacks in the first 30 minutes. Then, after Neymar and Philippe Coutinho assimilated better down the left, Mexico not only stopped being dangerous, they slowly stopped having possession of the ball.
Possession is another key characteristic for Mexico. Moving the ball around has always been more or less the the forte of the Mexico national team through its history. It is always hard to do this against teams like Brazil and Germany, but Mexico’s movement in between lines was completely nonexistent. 52% means nothing. At least with Sweden, Mexico had the excuse that they were physically being tackled out of possession, but against Brazil, none of the Mexican midfielders showed the level of concentration and recovery to play the simple ball and impose their style of play.
Finally, Mexico made really good use of their fullback’s aerial abilities in the first three games of this tournament. You’d think that against a smaller team in Brazil, they could have used this as an escape plan when Brazil pressed. But Edson Alvarez was in no-mans land, and although Gallardo did fairly well in that regard, defensively he was going up against an exceptional Willian. By the time Brazil were in the lead, everything just fell like dominos. Brazil stopped pressing high, depriving Mexico of one of their strengths and forcing them to play between lines, where they couldn’t find the mental toughness and resilience to impose their style of play. In the process, Mexico’s talented wide players got less of the ball, and Mexico fell apart.