Mexico have exited the 2014 FIFA World Cup in dramatic, undeserved fashion after suffering a late 2-1 comeback defeat to Netherlands.
While the manner of their exit was certainly harsh and difficult to take—having led for most of the second half in the sweltering heat of Fortaleza, Brazil—it was also somewhat predictable that it would happen sooner or later.
Mexico were a good side in the World Cup, with a strong tactical plan and plenty of key performers throughout the middle of the park, but their lack of telling impact in the opposition penalty box is something that caused them problems throughout qualifying and has been a factor at the finals, too.
Mexico barely scraped through to the finals after beating Panama in their penultimate Hexagonal match, before watching the same opposition succumb to a late defeat—conceding two injury-time goals to USA—in the final round of games.
Those results meant Mexico finished fourth, scoring just seven goals in 10 matches and winning only twice. Although they comfortably dispatched New Zealand 9-3 over two legs in the intercontinental playoff, the World Cup has shown their front line to be the weakest area of the team.
The irony of Mexico's World Cup exit—coming due to an injury-time goal—won't be lost on their own fans or on those of Panama.
Mexico's excellent team shape stemmed from a 5-3-2 base system, using wing-backs with hard-working, technical, aggressive central midfielders—Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera—who could burst through the middle of the pitch, overlap down the channels and look to be creative around the edge of the box.
The back three were compact, held a good line and looked to step out to win the ball when possible, while behind them, Guillermo Ochoa was in the form of his life against the biggest opponents.
It made Mexico tough to break down, comfortable in possession and, to an extent, blunt in attack.
Mexico needs to try a different combination of forwards. These 2 haven't done anything all tournament.— Héctor (@Hextor14) June 29, 2014
Forwards vs. Forwards
When attacking, Mexico seeked out Oribe Peralta with diagonal passes behind opposition centre-backs, while Giovani dos Santos dropped a little deeper to try to link play, but Mexico neither had enough of a penalty-area presence nor a succession of runners from deep to take advantage of second balls.
Netherlands were far from dominant in the match, but Arjen Robben in particular possessed the type of movement and direct threat that Mexico could not find throughout the tournament.
"We did a good job but made mistakes, while the Netherlands did a great job to hold on, keep fighting and finally turn the scoreline around," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said, per FIFA.com. "But this wasn't the Dutch team everyone's been talking about, this is a side that's vulnerable and can be beaten."
Pat Nevin of BBC Sport summed up how Netherlands made sure they got the end result:
You have to feel sorry for the Mexicans—they were brilliant for the first half and maybe 10 minutes of the second. You really believed that their goalkeeper looked unbeatable. But, however you have to do it, whether it is a long ball or technical stuff, you find a way to do it and that is what the Netherlands did. Robben became unplayable at the end of the game. Running with the ball at pace, he was simply astonishing.
It wasn't a case of failure from Herrera; the Mexico coach made the very best use of the style of players available to him. It was almost inevitable that Mexico would be undone in the end by their inability to finish off chances—that was apparent even from the first game against Cameroon—but cruel fate would have it that the exit came in the round of 16 for their sixth consecutive World Cup.