This is Mexico: Make it six consecutive Round of 16 exits for Mexico at the World Cup. Six. You can set your watch by their World Cup departures. Only on two occasions have El Tri ever made it to the quarterfinals, both times—not so coincidentally—achieved on home soil. Mexico is winless in its last seven knockout games at the World Cup, the latest setback coming in the heat of Fortaleza where they threw away a lead against the Netherlands late in the game and were undone by an injury-time penalty from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Turkey, South Korea, Belgium, Bulgaria and host of other nations have, at one time or another, played above “their station” and made it to the semifinals of the World Cup. Not Mexico. Never. It’s not who El Tri are.
This is Mexico. This is who they are as a World Cup team. A Round of 16 side. A side good enough to survive a difficult group and play brilliantly at times (like they did in Group A against Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon). A side good enough to give the Netherlands fits and come within a whisper of the rarified air of the quarterfinals. But a side that’s not actually good enough-and, to be honest, not lucky enough—to shatter through the glass ceiling that they keep bonking their heads into. On the balance of play, Mexico was better than the Dutch and deserved to go through. But deserve has nothing to do with anything. What the Mexicans don’t have, and truth be told what they’ve never shown at this tournament, is the ability to raise their game and play above their heads on a consistent basis. Mexico is exactly the sum of its parts. Nothing more. And that’s simply not good enough at this level. The gap between the best teams and CONCACAF and the elite nations of Europe is smaller, no doubt, but the gap still exists. To close the gap, El Tri must be more than the sum of its parts. Until it figures out how to do that, Mexico will be nothing more than a Round-of-16 team.
Somebody had to win: It wasn’t quite like that famous episode of The Simpsons, but Costa Rica versus Greece wasn’t very far off, as it brought together two of the most organized (but also least entertaining) teams of the tournament. You could just hear the collective groans around the world from neutrals when Sokratis Papastathopoulos tied it for the Greeks deep into second-half injury time. “Great. 30 more minutes of this,” was the common complaint.
The knockout stage mandates that one team has to win, and in that context you have to conclude the “right” nation won. Reduced to 10 men in the second half and having a clear penalty denied them for a hand ball shortly after taking the lead, Costa Rica held on for dear life by means fair (resolute defending) and foul (time wasting) before conceding late in regulation, and then gutted it out through 30 minutes of extra time on rubbery, tired legs. After that, five bullets in the penalty shootout and one great save. Justice done. But champagne football, this wasn’t. And that’s fine. We can salute Los Ticos for being heroic, but let’s not kid ourselves—their brand of soccer isn’t exactly easy on the eye. The same can be said for Greece, who aside from their fans, nobody will be sad to see leave Brazil. The Greeks are efficient, as well as being noted escape artists. You can’t deny that. But that reputation hardly captures the imagination of neutrals. Should that matter to the Greeks? Not one bit. But they shouldn’t be surprised when neutral fans celebrate their elimination.
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Stat of the day
4 – The Netherlands have now turned their last four World Cup games in which they fell behind in regular time into a victory. Update.
With the Dutch pressing for an equalizer in the 88th minute, Klass-Jan Huntelaar headed the ball back to the top of the penalty area. Wesley Sneijder was waiting and thumped a half-volley into the lower corner past a helpless Guillermo Ochoa in the Mexican net.
Save of the day
Keylor Navas’s stop on Theofanis Gekas in the penalty shootout. The way he swatted the Greek’s attempt out of the air was poetry.
Best moment of the day
The first ever water break in World Cup history took place in the first half between the Netherlands and Mexico. It was humid and sticky in Fortaleza, and it was great to see the referee exercise common sense by calling for the three-minute water break. The flow of the game was barely disrupted and players were able to rehydrate.
He said it
“Today it was the (the referee) who eliminated us from the World Cup. We ended up losing because he whistled a penalty that did not exist.” – Miguel Herrera, Mexico coach
1) Keylor Navas: He came up with some huge saves, including the decisive on in the shootout, to send Costa Rica through to the quarterfinals. 2) Klaas-Jan Huntelaar: One goal and an assist from seven touches after coming on as a second-half substitute for Robin van Persie. Efficient 3) Jose Hobelas: The defender was an attacking force down the left flank with his probing runs and dangerous crosses.