10 Defining Moments of Mexico's 2014 World Cup Campaign
It was a bittersweet ride for fans, media, players and pretty much everyone involved with football in Mexico. Brazil 2014 started with a beacon of hope for El Tri, but in the end it finished like it has happened for the past 20 years.
The road to get to the finals wasn't easy. After four coaches, two wins, five draws and three defeats during the Hexagonal—including one on home soil to Honduras—plus a two-legged playoff, El Tri secured their ticket for the tournament.
The warm-ups weren't easy. Juan Carlos Medina and Luis Montes were sidelined due to injuries, while Mexico lost their last couple of friendly games ahead of their first match.
The group stage was fantastic. El Tri qualified in second place of Group A, just behind the host. Nevertheless, the result in the knockout stage was far from what many expected.
This is a chronological countdown to Mexico's key moments during the World Cup.
15. Support from the fans: Before the games many of them waited outside of the team's hotel and sang Cielito Lindo. It was a serenade if you will. At the stadium El Tri seemed to be playing in any Mexican stadium.
14. Javier Hernandez goal vs. Croatia: Chicharito scored for El Tri after a 12-month drought. He regained confidence and responded to the manager's trust.
13. Giovani dos Santos goal vs. Netherlands: Gio put Mexico ahead in the round of 16 with a powerful long distance shot from outside the box. His goal meant El Tri's ticket to the quarterfinals, at least momentarily.
12. Rafael Marquez's leadership: The captain of the squad made sure that the defense was well organized; he provided support to the midfield and even scored once.
11. Hector Moreno's injury: The centre-back broke his tibia after a tackle. He tried to stop Arjen Robben and in the process he left the pitch injured just seconds before the first half ended. His loss would be very sensitive afterward.
10. Miguel Herrera
Everything about this guy defined the team.
His flamboyant personality and ability to motivate his players was essential through the World Cup campaign.
No other Mexico coach had shared the lineup via his Twitter account, days before the match.
Like in his playing days, he was always straightforward, honest and fun to watch.
Moreover, he got a whole country to believe in something that somewhere along the road had been lost. He returned faith to the fans, media and players.
9. Guillermo Ochoa Picked as Starting Goalkeeper
When Miguel Herrera cut off Moises Munoz from his 23-man list it was clear that Jesus Corona and Guillermo Ochoa would fight for the starting spot.
Both goalkeepers had proven to be in great shape, although Ochoa had experience playing in Europe.
In the end, and just days away from the opening match against Cameroon, Herrera announced that he had picked Ochoa for the challenge.
He wasn't wrong.
8. Wrongfully Disallowed Goals
Just when Mexico seemed to finally find the way to open a hole in Cameroon's defense, the linesman raised his flag to point out an offside by Giovani dos Santos.
The referee disallowed the goal and just 17 minutes later he repeated his decision, ending the first half with a scoreless draw.
Despite the amazement, Mexico kept working hard to open the score, which at other times they hadn't done.
Instead they were patient until Oribe Peralta put the ball in the back of the net in the 61st minute.
7. First Victory
Oribe Peralta's goal secured El Tri's first three points of the tournament, but it actually meant a lot more than that.
In the general table, Mexico were ahead of Croatia and Cameroon and only behind Brazil, due to goal difference.
It was the first step toward Miguel Herrera's goal of winning the 2014 edition. Plus, it was also a shout to the fans and media to take a leap of faith.
6. Guillermo Ochoa vs. Brazil
Mexico arrived in Fortaleza knowing that the whole stadium would cheer against them.
They had to come out and play their own game without falling to provocations. Especially when it came down to refereeing decisions.
Brazil's powerful attack didn't count on Guillermo Ochoa's performance. The former Ajaccio goalkeeper stopped everything that came from the shoes and head of Neymar, Oscar, Jo, Fred, you name it.
The goalkeeper also endorsed Miguel Herrera's trust and boosted the team and fans' confidence.
5. Draw vs. Brazil
Guillermo Ochoa's performance gave Mexico a very valuable point in a match that many thought was lost even before it had started.
El Tri didn't have it easy. The host pushed hard and kept the ball for most of the game. According to FIFA.com, Brazil had 56 percent of ball possession and had eight shots on target.
However, Mexico's solid defense was key in snatching the draw from the rival's hands. El Tri completed 74 percent of the 404 passes they sent; they also ran 100,240 meters, 37,567 meters while not in possession of the ball, as per FIFA.com.
Miguel Herrera's strategy took advantage of Brazil's shaky defense through the flanks, from where Mexico started six goal chances out of a total of nine, as per Squawka.com.
4. Croatia's Trash Talk
When coach Niko Kovac and Luka Modric stepped into the media center ahead of their clash with Mexico they had no idea of what they would unleash.
Kovac started the fire with this comment, according to the Associated Press (H/T Fox News):
I think if there's someone who's knees should be shaking in this moment, it's them and not us.
[Guillermo Ochoa] had a lot of luck and he had a great game vs. Brazil but we'll make sure that this doesn't happen again on Monday. With full respect to Ochoa, [Mario] Mandzukic has scored on better 'keepers than him.
Mexico didn't fall for it and kept working hard.
3. Victory over Croatia
Mexico did the talking on the pitch.
Miguel Herrera's team started a bit defensively and overcame a clear refereeing mistake. It should have been a penalty kick in Mexico’s favor after Darijo Srna rejected the ball with his hand.
In the second half El Tri displayed their already known vertical and dynamic game through the flanks. Croatia couldn't keep up with the pace and lost 3-1 with goals from Rafael Marquez, Andres Guardado and Javier Hernandez.
The Blazers packed their bags after a 1-0-2 record.
Oh, and Guillermo Ochoa also shut Modric.
2. Defensive Strategy vs. Netherlands
Giovani dos Santos put away the ball after a powerful long-distance shot and gave Mexico the lead in the second half.
However, Miguel Herrera did something he hadn't done throughout the tournament and it ultimately hurt the team more than expected.
El Piojo retracted his players, took Dos Santos out of the pitch and sent Javier Aquino in, who had not played a single minute of the World Cup by the way.
Louis van Gaal noticed Herrera's sudden change and took advantage of it by changing his formation to an offensive 4-3-3.
In the end, that strategy started Mexico's downfall.
1. Last-Minute Penalty Kick
Wesley Sneijder managed to beat Guillermo Ochoa with a fantastic shot from outside the box in the 88th minute.
Netherlands resurrected themselves, and with the ability of Arjen Robben, the team managed to turn around the score during stoppage time.
Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca awarded a controversial penalty kick just two minutes before the final whistle, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar became El Tri's executioner.
To make things even worse, Robben told the Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (H/T The Telegraph):
I must apologise, the one [at the end] was a penalty, but the other one was a dive in the first half. I shouldn't be doing that.
In the end Mexico left the tournament empty-handed and without a ticket to the quarterfinals for the sixth time in a row.
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