clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mexico continue the “curse of the final friendly”

While Mexico have enjoyed a great streak of qualifying to the Round of 16, they’ve constantly gone to the World Cup on the back of a bad result.

Mexico v Italy - International Friendly Match Photo by Mario Castillo/LatinContent via Getty Images

Mexico will go to the 2022 World Cup on the back of a 2-1 loss to Sweden. It’s a worrying situation for Mexico with a streak of 7 consecutive World Cups qualifying to the Round of 16 in major jeopardy because of their bad results. Yet in a curious way, Mexico’s great streak (which only Brazil having qualified to the knockout phase in those same number of World Cups) has been accompanied with a bad result in the last friendly match played leading up to the World Cups. In fact, Mexico will be going for a third straight World Cup with a loss in the final preparation match and in most of the series it has only been a team coached by Javier Aguirre that has changed things around after that first match.


Mexico’s World Cup run started again in 1994 after they were suspended from all international competition in the 1990 World Cup due to cheating by using overage players in youth tournaments. They expected to have a great World Cup after their performances in the 1993 Copa America, where they finished 2nd place, and the 1993 Gold Cup, winning the tournament with a 4-0 win against the United States in Estadio Azteca. Yet prior to the World Cup they had a huge setback losing a friendly against the United States by a 1-0 score in the Rose Bowl. Still, while many people left feeling it was the final game, Mexico would play once more and get a convincing 3-0 win over Northern Ireland with 2 goals by Luis Garcia and one more by Carlos Hermosillo. However, that friendly didn’t help Mexico when they went to the World Cup and lost the opener 1-0 against Norway. While Mexico started this friendlies streak with a win, they would lose the opener, the last time it happened in a World Cup for Mexico.


If there is ever a thing to be positive about for Mexico in this and future cups, it’s a possibility for a 1998 situation. For the 1998 World Cup, Mexico prepared with countless friendlies mostly because Coach Manuel Lapuente had only taken the job in December, getting terrible results in that span. While the year started great with Mexico winning the 1998 Gold Cup, it turned bad quickly. Mexico had some awful results like going on a South American tour where they lost all 3 matches against Boca Juniors, Chile’s U20 and Universidad Catolica de Chile (the last one by a 5-1 score). They tied their farewell match in Estadio Azteca against Paraguay, the only time they failed to get a win in one of those matches during this streak.

Then Mexico went on their European tour and had some awful results, like getting destroyed by Norway in a 5-2 loss and another terrible loss against Wolfsburg (4-1). Mexico would not close out their preparation with a loss, but it would be a disappointing result with a 0-0 tie against Saudi Arabia. The Saudis would go on to have a terrible World Cup, but many in Mexico didn’t pay attention as Mexico qualified to the Round of 16 in a tough group and almost defeated Germany in what many think (me included) was Mexico’s best World Cup after 1986.


The 2002 edition came in with the guy that changed things both times at the helm; coach Javier Aguirre. Under Aguirre, Mexico had a good preparation and closed out with two wins over AC Milan (2-1) and Tokyo Verdy (2-0). Still, friendlies against clubs are unofficial matches and thus don’t count as results. But if we have to go to National Teams, Mexico would also get a win in their last match against Bolivia (1-0). So every way you look at it, Javier Aguirre ended with a victory in their preparation.


The 2006 preparation for the World Cup would also technically end with a win, but it was a very strange case, just like in 2002. Mexico closed out with a 3-0 win, but the victory came over club Gottingen. Apparently not only was it not a NT, it was barely a club, as it consisted of amateur players along with players from Gottingen University. So officially, Mexico closed out their tournament with two losses, as their final friendly had been an away loss to the Netherlands (2-1), this after a loss to eventual finalist France (1-0). So once again, Mexico closed out their preparation officially with a loss.


Once again, Javier Aguirre took the reins and Mexico closed out their preparation with a win. Not only was it a victory, but it was one of the best imaginable, with a 2-1 triumph over Italy in Brussels. Mexico had a great match and at times dominated over an Italy side that was the current World champion. Still, it would end a little bittersweet as Mexico never could surpass the level they showed that day in the World Cup, and it was also a little distorted as Italy were a huge failure in the competition, going out in the group stage, failing to beat even New Zealand.


Mexico started their current losing streak in their preparation for the 2014 World Cup. Under Coach Miguel Herrera, Mexico would have a good prep, but it would end with two losses, the first for Herrera as NT coach. ‘Piojo’ had only gotten the job in November, which meant that like Lapuente, didn’t have many matches under his leadership. They lost to Bosnia and Herzegovina (1-0) in the second to last friendly, and then they would close out against Portugal, where despite a good performance, missed out on some good chances, especially one by Alan Pulido. But in the final play, a header from Bruno Alves would give Portugal the 1-0 victory and sent Mexico with a loss to Brazil. Then, just like with Lapuente, Mexico would surprise and be minutes away from getting to the Quarterfinal in a performance that would rival 1998 and easily be the best since.


Mexico would close out another inconsistent preparation for the World Cup with another loss prior to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. El Tri were heavily criticized under coach Juan Carlos Osorio, to the point they were booed after “only” winning by a 1-0 score in their farewell match against Scotland in Mexico City. They would play one more match against Denmark in Copenhagen. After a bad performance, they would lose by a 2-0 score in a severely criticized match as most fans were filled with doom just like in 1998. Mexico would then shock the world by once again defeating the current World Cup champion, but this time in the World Cup with a 1-0 win over Germany. Later in interviews, Osorio stated that because he found out about German “spies” in Copenhagen for the Denmark match, he changed his strategy to “fool” Germany, and the match was somewhat wasted in that way, although it payed off in the end.

The situation is clear; as consistent as Mexico have been in the World Cup, their final friendly results prior to the competition have consistently disappointed. It might be a good thing they lost to Sweden. Although it’s better to get in time to play your best in the World Cup and not have your peak before, like in 2010 with the Italy friendly, but bad preparation doesn’t necessarily mean a bad tournament, But Mexico are coming in on a downward spiral that they might not come out of in time for Qatar 2022. Yet out of all the streaks that Mexico hope to continue, the Round of 16 streak is by far the most important.