For a seventh straight FIFA World Cup Mexico have made it to the last 16, but, agonizingly, they have failed to go any further on the six previous occasions.
Mexico does not have history on their side in their bid to dump Brazil out of the FIFA World Cup 2018 but this version of El Tri have already demonstrated a capability to surprise in Russia. For a seventh straight World Cup Mexico have made it to the last 16, but, agonizingly, they have failed to go any further on the six previous occasions, turning the desire just to make the “Quinto Partido” (fifth match) an obsession.
“There’s no greater memory than making history with a fifth match,” said Mexico captain Andres Guardado. “We’re different players in terms of the mental aspect, but we know we’ll be judged by whether we get through or not.
“What greater motivation could you need when we face off against the five-time champions? It’s the perfect scene. It’s the biggest game of our lives.”
Mexico’s last-16 misfortunes have often come down to the finest of margins. Defeat on penalties to surprise package Bulgaria in 1994 started an inauspicious run. They blew a lead against Germany four years later and against Argentina in 2006.
Conceding twice to the Netherlands in the final minutes four years ago hurt more than most defeats, with a controversial penalty awarded for a theatrical Arjen Robben tumble deep into stoppage time sending the Dutch into the last eight. VAR (the video assistant referee) should prevent a repeat of that injustice, but Guardado has warned Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi not to be fooled by any playacting from the world’s most expensive player, Neymar.
“We all know who Neymar is, but it isn’t up to me or my team to judge him, but the referees and FIFA,” he said. “Now there’s VAR they need to watch his style and know how to manage it.
“We know he likes to exaggerate fouls, throw himself on the ground a lot, but that’s his style of play and the person who needs to stop that is the referee, not us.”
A Brazil side finding their stride in Russia after a slow start is arguably the toughest challenge Mexico could have asked for as they were punished for failing to back up victories over Germany and South Korea with defeat to Sweden to finish second in Group F. Under Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio, though, Mexico approach every game seeking to impose themselves rather than in fear of the opposition.
“We will try to be more offensive-minded and more driven towards winning games rather than just being happy to be there and trying to not get embarrassed or playing not to lose,” said Osorio ahead of the tournament.
He was true to his word by going for Germany’s jugular in an opening game shock the world champions failed to recover from, failing to get beyond the first round of a World Cup for the first time in 80 years. Hirving Lozano scored the only goal in Moscow but Mexico could and should have had many more with cooler heads. Despite landing in what is widely perceived as the tougher half of the draw, the team does not want for ambition.
“Why can’t we be Greece in the Euros? Why can’t we be Leicester in the Premier League?” said striker Javier Hernandez, Mexico’s all-time top scorer with 50 international goals.
“We want to be world champions and that’s what we’re aiming for. We don’t want to put any limits on ourselves.” To be champions, they need to get to the fifth game first.