El Tri failed to reach quarter-finals again
10 July ~ Mexico's fans and players have a lot to be proud of but also plenty of regrets when reviewing the World Cup. The team bowed out at the same stage as they had in the previous five tournaments so that wasn't a surprise in itself, but they had never been so close to reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986. Only five minutes separated them, and they weren't able to deliver. It was even more painful because they had already improve hugely – only a few months ago it was almost unconceivable that El Tri could be leading a world power in a last 16 match.
They had their worst qualifiers in history, finishing fourth in the Concacaf final round and requiring play-off with New Zealand. Expectations were at an all-time low and most pundits had them going out in the first round.
But the team suddenly showed an unforeseen composure and quality in their play in those group games. In the eyes of the Mexican media, the players suddenly went from "overhyped divas" to "the heroes who made the country proud" and the talk started to be whether they could beat Holland en route route to the final. And they came so close that it was almost painful. They were the better side until they scored, then sat back and tried to hold out against wave after wave of Dutch attacks, a strategy that backfired in the end.
And there was also the "dive". The second Dutch goal has already entered Mexican football folklore as one of the worst memories in the history of the national team. The ease at which Arjen Robben tumbled after a tame challenge by Rafa Márquez caused outrage among fans and media. The images were repeated to exhaustion on Mexican TV and the hashtag #noerapenal (#itwasntapenalty) became a trending topic in social networks for days after the match.
It must be said, however, that the Mexican team had lost control of the game after Wesley Sneijder's equaliser five minutes earlier, plus Robben had easily dribbled through the entire defence to get into the box before his controversial fall. The defeat wasn't really undeserved, although the circumstances will hurt the Mexican fans until 2018.
Despite the current generation matching several others in failing to reach the last eight, there are some positives to rescue from the World Cup. Miguel Herrera proved to be an intelligent and practical coach, midfielder Héctor Herrera, keeper Guillermo Ochoa and defender Héctor Moreno proved that they are ready to play at a higher level. Plus, the next generation, typified by Raúl Jiménez, Marco Fabián and Carlos Peña seems to have what it takes to replace the older players who will now retire from the international scene. Martin del Palacio Langer