Mexico can't match the quality and depth of Brazil or World Cup's elite
SAMARA, Russia -- Perhaps the World Cup's most freakish statistic once again held on Monday, as Mexico exited at the round-of-16 stage for the seventh consecutive tournament. There will be no "quinto partido" (fifth game) for El Tri.
Throughout the course of those seven round-of-16 games in the 32 years since El Tri last made the quarterfinals at home in 1986, Mexico has fallen against opposition it should've defeated; the United States in 2002 springs to mind, or even Bulgaria in 1994. In other contests, El Tri hasn't had much luck.
But none of that was the case on Monday as El Tri lost 2-0 to Brazil in Samara Arena. Mexico actually put up a brave fight against the Selecao, as it did in 2006 against Argentina. It just simply wasn't enough.
"I didn't see a Brazilian national team that imposed the quality it has," said Miguel Layun after the game. "In the end, we are talking about them having the best players in the world, because they have Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, [Philippe] Coutinho and all of them, but in no moment did I have the feeling that Brazil were on top of us.
"That suggests that Brazil also knew that we were a dangerous rival."
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio lamented Neymar's theatrical antics when Layun appeared to stand on him on the sideline, and said Brazil's slowing tactics when it went ahead made it difficult for El Tri. But the reality is that Mexico was simply beaten by a better team.
Aside from Corinthians full-back Fagner, every single one of Brazil's starting XI against Mexico plays at an elite European club, as do many of the subs. Even with Marcelo out against El Tri, Brazil coach Tite had the luxury of replacing him with another of the world's best full-backs in Filipe Luis.
Mexico also had problems ahead of the game, with Hector Moreno suspended and Nestor Araujo and Diego Reyes ruled out before the tournament got underway. Osorio didn't have the same level of replacements to choose from. Twenty-year-old Edson Alvarez filled in at right-back, Tigres' Hugo Ayala came in at center-back and 39-year-old Rafa Marquez started as the holding midfielder.
It was always going to be a difficult task against Brazil's attacking talent.
Mexico started this World Cup on the right foot, defeating world champion Germany with arguably the best victory in El Tri's history in the tournament. Mexico was slightly unlucky to not advance automatically after defeating South Korea 2-1 in the second game. That Toni Kroos goal for Germany against Sweden turned out to be a crueler blow to Mexico than even Sweden.
But El Tri's error was losing that final group-stage game 3-0 against Sweden. Not finishing top of Group F meant facing Brazil. With no disrespect to Switzerland, El Tri's path to a fifth game would've been much easier through the European side than taking on this Brazil side that has boundless attacking talent but is also very solid at the back.
Mexico wilted against a limited Sweden team that was able to control the game through physical play and direct football, which it was entitled to do. And it was strange to see Osorio not rotate his squad as expected.
"The most unfortunate moment for us was the game against Sweden," said Layun. "We never felt comfortable, and we weren't right in the game."
But rationality means little for hurting Mexico fans. The idea of reaching the "quinto partido" purveys the whole of the Mexican game. El Tri has long been respected as a team with technical players who play pretty football, but Brazil would've been happy to meet Mexico at this stage of the tournament. Mexico still lacks teeth, and that hasn't changed -- despite the Germany victory that promised so very much.
"When the results are negative, it is a process to improve, and it'll be seen, but the most beautiful thing is the union between Mexicans that we are showing, in spite of the negative noise that unfortunately garners most attention," Javier Hernandez said afterward. "Here, the important thing is that the Mexicans can break those limits."
Breaking through the wall of the "quinto partido" will take much work and have to wait at least another four years. Mexico will leave Russia with the memory of a nice win against Germany, but it ended the tournament conceding six goals without reply.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.