Last time we ranked Mexico’s group stage performances but now that Mexico’s World Cup campaign ended in the same round it has in every World Cup since 1994, it’s time to rank the overall World Cup performances. Maybe the logical way would be to rank the Round of 16 games, but not only can I not do that (I didn’t watch the Mexico/Bulgaria game as I was in Busch Gardens that day), it would be better to analyze the overall importance of the final game in the overall picture.
1. 1998 World Cup
As overall performances goes, Mexico’s World Cup in 1998 is the highest. While Mexico didn’t finish with their highest point total in the end (5 points and finished 13th overall), Mexico played some of the most offensive level of play during the group stages. It was good enough for me to rank it second of all the group stages. They then went on to play against Germany, took a 1-0 lead and should have made it 2-0 before eventually falling 2-1. While it’s true that it was a heartbreaking loss, Mexico at times was the better team against a Germany team that was still considered a candidate for the title, even when their decline was starting and they would eventually lose 3-0 to Croatia in the next round. That said, Mexico played some of the best football in this tournament and left with their head held high. And although Lapuente subbing in Raul Rodrigo Lara ended being key in Mexico losing, in terms of Mexican coach screw ups, it was one of the lesser ones.
2. 2014 World Cup
Barely losing first place in the Group to the hosts, Mexico finished with the highest number of points, finished higher in the table (10th) and were the closest to making it to the next round with a 88th minute lead over the Netherlands. Still, while most Mexican fans cried foul over the last minute penalty that gave the Dutch the win, in terms of play, Mexico really deserved to at least go to Extra Time. After Miguel Herrera subbed out Giovani Dos Santos for Javier Aquino, Mexico lost the plot, and the Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal totally outcoached him. The Netherlands took control of the game and then the heartbreaking end that we all know about happened. The fact Mexico was closer to winning made the end more heartbreaking. The bigger collapse in the knockout round was probably 1998, but these were clearly the best World Cups Mexico has played in recent decades.
3. 2018 World Cup
Slightly over the 1994 World Cup, I pick this recent clash. At first this looked like it was clearly going to be one of the best, if not the best, especially after the victory over current World Champion Germany. A win against South Korea and Mexico had 6 points out of 6. But the Sweden debacle that almost had Mexico out of the World Cup ended up costing Mexico big when they faced Brazil. Another loss and another Round of 16 exit. While Mexico never really threatened, they still played well enough against a Brazil team that is as good as any Brazilian team in recent memory. Their tough defense meant Mexico couldn’t threaten much despite having more possession. At the end, the big mistake was the defeat against Sweden in which coach Juan Carlos Osorio joined previous Mexican managers in making a terrible mistake that would cost Mexico greatly.
4. 1994 World Cup
This World Cup had Mexico playing at a better overall level than most, as El Tri won the Group of Death and played some of the most attractive football. But what brings Mexico down in this is that they went out in the Round of 16 against a non powerhouse. Bulgaria would finish in the Semifinals and had their best ever player in Hristo Stoichkov, but they were more or less a team of Mexico’s level. Even worse were the awful circumstances they went out, losing on penalties after coach Manuel Mejia Baron didn’t make a single substitution in 120 minutes. This even after Luis Garcia was red carded. The AWFUL display by Baron qualifies this performance as the fourth best and only because of the good group stage display.
5. 2006 World Cup
While Mexico played one of their best Round of 16 games ever against Argentina, overall this World cup wasn’t very good. As a seeded team, Mexico got the advantage in the draw of having the easiest group (and by a lot) of all World Cups during this span. In a group with Angola, Iran and Portugal, Mexico not only got a low quantity of points in 4, but had to depend on the result of Iran vs Angola, as they lost to a Portugal team that was already through to the next round. The Argentina game cleaned the performance by a lot, but overall, it was just one good game out of 4.
6. 2010 World Cup
Mexico came to this World Cup with a lot of expectations and with some good performances prior to this , especially in a friendly victory over Italy. But El Tri didn’t live up to the expectations. A draw against South Africa was a good result, being that it was the opening game, but their play in the second half left a lot to be desired. They then proceeded to defeat a French team that self destructed before losing to Uruguay. Like in 2018, the loss to Uruguay meant Mexico missed out on the golden path to the Semifinals, and El Tri shot themselves on the foot by starting Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Guillermo Franco in that game. It was a baffling decision that once again cost Mexico. El Tri would go on to face Argentina again, and although Mexico played well at the start, they would self destruct after a bad call gave Argentina a goal that should’ve been offside. Ricardo Osorio then gifted Argentina a goal, and in the end, Mexico didn’t come close to their performance against Argentina 4 years later. The same amount of points and a worse performance against Argentina meant it falls below 2006.
7. 2002 World Cup
Nothing points to how much a game can change things like the 2002 World Cup. Mexico had one of their best group stages ever with 7 points and played some of their greatest football in a World cup against Italy. But all everybody took from that World Cup is that it was the World Cup where Mexico lost their Round of 16 match to the United States. Not only did this mean Mexico lost to a team close to their level, but it was to their main rival. It was also coupled with what might be tied as the worse coaching decision by a World Cup coach. Panicking, Javier Aguirre decided to take out Ramon Morales, Mexico’s best player during that game but a player that had made a mistake in the first goal, for Luis Hernandez. Luis Hernandez’s play had been awful in that World Cup, and it was clear that he no longer belonged in the national team. Hernandez not only played despite his bad form, but he was supposed to be the game changer and proceeded to play as bad as he did all tournament. For the second half, Aguirre subbed out Gerardo Torrado for another slow veteran in Alberto Garcia Aspe. Aguirre’s terrible performance sealed a victory for the US and threw out the window all the positive things Mexico had done in the first round, as they suffered what clearly is the worst loss (sentimental wise) in Mexico’s entire history.