Mexico's 2010 FIFA World Cup™ dream came to an end on Sunday in the Round of 16 for a staggering fifth consecutive time as Argentina, their conquerors at the same stage at Germany 2006, did the damage once more. The 3-1 defeat at Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium meant that El Tri failed in their objective of reaching the quarter-finals, something they have still only achieved twice before – in 1970 and 1986 when the finals were held on home soil.
Coming into these finals, there were high expectations for Javier Aguirre's class of 2010 – a blend of promising young starlets with established players boasting extensive experience at the very highest level. Playing with pace and intelligence, Mexico proved themselves capable of unsettling the best opponents, only to be let down at key moments by wastefulness in front of goal. "We've played well, we've put our bodies on the line and we've worked really hard, but more than anything else we lacked firepower. And perhaps a slice of luck," said one of the Mexicp squad's co-captains, Barcelona's Rafael Marquez. "Football's also about luck and Argentina had the rub of the green," agreed fellow defender Carlos Salcido.
Mexico began their South Africa 2010 campaign with a high-octane 1-1 draw with the host nation in the Opening Match, where they impressed with their smooth, attacking football in a game in which both sides created and failed to take a multitude of chances. Their second Group A encounter was a more clinical 2-0 victory over Germany 2006 runners-up France. The fact that both goals came from substitutes in Javier Hernandez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the latter from the penalty spot, underlined 'El Vasco' Aguirre's tactical nous.
Yet in their final encounter in the section, Mexico ground to a halt in the face of a solid and effective Uruguay side. Los Charrúas nicked a 1-0 win and, though Mexico still reached the knockout stages, it was "with a sour taste in our mouths", according to young forward Giovani Dos Santos. The Uruguay reverse meant Mexico’s last-16 opponents would be Group B winners Argentina, a team who had defeated El Tri out on penalties in the semi-finals of the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup as well as beating them at Germany 2006. "If we prepare really well then we can hurt them," said Salcido before the game, though goals from Carlos Tevez (2) and Gonzalo Higuain put La Albiceleste beyond reach.
"Unfortunately, that’s football," added the PSV Eindhoven player, who saw his fierce long-range drive rattle the crossbar with the game goalless. "It's a repeat of what happens to us at every World Cup [bowing out after four matches], but we have to keep plugging away." Marquez added: "I hope that the national team manages it some day. We have to keep working hard and putting our faith in the young players and hope we can change history one day." His point about youth is a pertinent one, for Mexico having every reason to be confident about the future given they boast youngsters of the calibre of recent Manchester United signing 'El Chicharito' Hernandez, scorer of fine goals against France and Argentina.
We have to keep working hard and putting our faith in the young players and hope we can change history one day.
"This is one of the most important things we can take from this tournament, the fact that the national team is doing really well from youth level upwards," said Hernandez, perhaps with one eye on Brazil 2014. "That being the case, we'll be a great team in the future."