After looking commanding in an opening-day beatdown of the World Cup’s defending champs, then slick and deadly in an easy victory over South Korea, Mexico proceeded to completely shit the bed today. All they needed to do against Sweden was not lose by multiple goals, which seemed like something between a manageable objective and a virtual certainty given Sweden’s plodding front line and Mexico’s steady chance-creation machine. This is a good place to remind you of the “completely shit the bed” phrasing from earlier.
Rather than win, or even tie, or even threaten to score a single goal, Mexico absolutely got their asses kicked, 3-0. They’re lucky to advance, and probably should have gotten bounced from the group stage; that would have made this Mexico team only the third team in history to win its first two games and miss out on the Round of 16, and they would have deserved every bit of it. As it stands, Mexico is moving on anyway despite having been exposed as frauds. They’ll advance because of the sheer, ineffable fraudulence of an even more putrid Germany side.
Mexico’s greatest weakness today was their midfield. Andrés Guardado and Héctor Herrera had trouble linking up with Mexico’s forward line and winning the ball back in the center of the field, Miguel Layún’s passing was baffling, and Carlos Vela seemingly couldn’t quite figure put where to stand. If the first two games showed how dangerous Mexico could be, today’s blowout showed that they are still very capable of playing some very bad soccer—liable to overthink things and quick to dissolve into a squabbling mess when the pressure’s on. Were it not for some timely Memo Ochoa saves, it could have been worse than 3-0. It was that bad.
Take the first goal here. Sweden are not a fast team. Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen are not going to destroy you with pace and you can pressure Sweden’s passers. But look how much space Mexico concedes right in front of goal! This was easy for Sweden.
At this point, the tide turned against Mexico. Sweden’s next two goals were both soft ones. Héctor Moreno conceded a penalty that was probably not a penalty, then Edson Alvárez misplayed a flicked header in the box and scored on his own keeper with his butt. So much of international soccer is about momentum, and it’s clear that Mexico lost it when they started worrying.
Given Mexico’s recent history of high-profile collapses and cursed defeats, it’s easy to chalk their complete collapse up to something other than the ball being round and bouncing against them for 90 minutes. It may be too easy, but man, was this collapse swift and total. The swagger they displayed in their win over Germany, which should have been by about three or four goals, was completely absent, and Mexico played hesitant, conservative, strikingly un-confident soccer, and they got burnt for it. It’s clear that this team is a bit more fragile than they looked early on, but regression to the mean isn’t enough to explain what happened here. In a basic, elemental sense, Mexico just didn’t play like themselves. They need to be aggressive to win, and they were not.
And yet, because of Germany’s failures, Mexico will have a chance to fix this in a Round of 16 matchup with (probably) Brazil. Instead of further belaboring how terrible was, I submit this video. By the end of the game, Telemundo announcers weren’t even paying attention to the game they were broadcasting. Listen to how excited they were when South Korea pantsed Germany and you will know what this game was like:
Now Juan Carlos Osorio has five days to prepare his team for their biggest challenge of the World Cup and get them to mentally move past this truly embarrassing loss. As they showed in their first game, Mexico are capable of playing with the world’s very best teams. They will be wiped out again if the team that took the pitch on Wednesday makes another appearance.