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Jul 1, 2014

Assessment: Rough ending, new beginnings

Mexico have bowed out of the World Cup in the round of 16, and ESPNFC blogger Cesar Hernandez gives his verdict on the brighter points of the campaign, as well as what went wrong.

One sentence, World Cup recap

El Tri were able to surpass expectations, but they were once again knocked out in the round of 16 for a sixth time in a row.

All team assessments

Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
Finalists: Argentina
Winners: Germany

Star Man

Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa. The 28-year-old has been well-known in Mexico for years, but he has emerged as a World Cup star after the past couple of weeks.

The goalkeeper was near-perfect for Mexico and only let in one goal during the group stage. In the round of 16, the two goals that Ochoa let in from the Netherlands were completely forgivable. No goalkeeper could have stopped Wesley Sneijder's rocket of a goal, and it's hard to criticize a player for not blocking a penalty shot.

Now that Ochoa is a free agent, I can only imagine that squads from all over Europe will be flooding his agent with calls. It will truly be exciting to see where Ochoa will land for the upcoming season.

Memo Ochoa was disappointed he didn't stop a PK against the Dutch, but the keeper's star is on the rise.

Highlights

Anything that Miguel Herrera did. The boisterous and energetic manager became an overnight sensation with his over-the-top celebrations and gestures on the sidelines. The best of his celebrations was arguably after Mexico scored the second goal against Croatia. Herrera fell to the ground half-celebrating and half-hugging Paul Aguilar, got up while pumping his fist in the air, and then embraced Ochoa, who came charging at him for a hug that almost looked more like a tackle. It was beautiful to watch.

Mexico's second half against Croatia was easily another highlight of the tournament. El Tri stepped up their attack in the latter stages of the match and scored three goals in 10 minutes, therefore securing their spot in the round of 16. Veterans Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez all provided the crucial goals in the final match of the group stage.

Then there's, of course, Guillermo Ochoa's performances. Memo found a way to stifle anything that Brazil threw (or perhaps I should say "kicked") at him and was unfazed by Croatia or Cameroon. Granted, he did let in a goal against Croatia, but that was the only one that he let in during the first three matches.

Low Points

Other than the loss to the Netherlands, there were two stand-out moments for El Tri that were a bit of a downer for fans.

The first was Giovani dos Santos' two disallowed goals against Cameroon. It was tough to see Dos Santos and Mexico denied two goals that early in the tournament. Tensions were already very high from justifiably skeptical fans, and taking away both of those opportunities didn't exactly help the anxiousness from the Mexico bench or stands. Luckily for El Tri, they were able to sneak away with a win after Oribe Peralta's goal in the 61st minute.

Then, there was the injury to Hector Moreno. Moreno wasn't the best player for El Tri in the World Cup, but he gave the squad confidence with his presence in the back. The veteran has always represented consistency for club and country, and it was heartbreaking to hear that he will be out for about six months after breaking his tibia.

The demonstrative Miguel Herrera, and his system, became a standout on the world stage.

Lessons Learned

Mexico has the ability to be a fantastic team, but they may need to wait a few years before they become a world power. Many of Mexico's best players are only in their mid-20s, and it will be interesting to see how they all develop before the next World Cup in Russia.

Speaking of an excellent players in their mid-20s, dos Santos proved that he can work well in Herrera's 5-3-2 system. There were plenty of doubts from critics who assumed that Dos Santos' roaming style of play would interfere with some of the movement from the attacking midfielders. Dos Santos was still given the start up top with Peralta and appeared to thrive in the attack with the midfield. Hernandez, Raul Jimenez and Alan Pulido all have the potential to surpass Dos Santos, but the second striker spot will remain his for now.

The last lesson learned, especially for me, was recognizing the significance of Guillermo Ochoa as the starting goalkeeper. Although I knew Ochoa was the better option than Jesus Corona, my argument was still for Corona because of the fact that he had been a solid and dependable option for Mexico in the past. Even though it is impossible to know whether Corona would have done just as well as Ochoa, I would take no chances in the back and keep Ochoa as the starter after his stunning performances.

Cesar Hernandez

Cesar Hernandez can't remember a time when soccer hasn't been a part of his daily routine. Within that personal immersion of fútbol is a lifelong passion for the Mexican national team. He has blogged on El Tri for four years mainly through his blog The Big Verde. Follow him on Twitter @cesarh1030.