Match report as Salem Al-Dawsari's late strike breaks Mexico hearts as spirited comeback falls short; Second-half goals from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez left Mexico on verge of unlikely qualification out of Group C before crushing first group-stage elimination since 1978
Thursday 1 December 2022 09:22, UK
Mexico dramatically missed out on the World Cup knockout phase despite a spirited 2-1 victory over Saudi Arabia, as Poland progressed as Group C runners-up by virtue of a superior goal difference.
In a thrilling finale to Group C at the Lusail Stadium, Henry Martin's opener (47) and Luis Chavez's spectacular free-kick (52), combined with Argentina's 2-0 victory over Poland, left Mexico with three stoppage-time minutes to find the third goal needed to avoid exiting the group due to an inferior fair play points total.
Saudi Arabia's hopes of securing victory needed to seal their progress into the last 16 failed to get off the ground but, out of nowhere, Salem Al-Dawsari struck in stoppage-time to all but end Mexico's hopes of leapfrogging Poland.
The result means Group C winners Argentina will face Australia on Saturday and runners-up Poland will take on France in the last 16 on Sunday, as Mexico reflect on what might have been having left themselves with too much to do after announcing their arrival at the tournament in the final group game.
Saudi Arabia: Al-Owais (6), Tambakti (5), Al-Amri (5), Al-Bulayhi (5), Al-Ghanam (6), Al-Hassan (5), Kanno (5), Abdulhamid (5), Al-Buraikan (5), Al-Shehri (5), Al-Dawsari (6).
Subs: Madu (5), Al-Aboud (5), Sharahili (6), Bahebri (n/a).
Mexico: Ochoa (6), Sanchez (6), Montes (6), Moreno (6), Gallardo (6), Edson Alvarez (6), Chavez (8), Lozano (6), Pineda (7), Vega (6), Martin (8).
Subs: Rodriguez (5), Jimenez (5), Funes Mori (n/a), Antuna (6), Kevin Alvarez (n/a).
Player of the match: Luis Chavez
The drama and tension that was to come was encapsulated by the national anthems, where the majority Saudi crowd's passionate rendition was matched by the Mexican contingent. It very nearly propelled Mexico into an early lead, but Alexis Vega's third-minute strike was brilliantly smothered by Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.
Mohamed Kanno lashed over from a tight angle and Saudi captain Salem Al-Dawsari whistled a free-kick inches over the bar inside 12 minutes before the frenetic start settled and Mexico began to take a grip of the game.
Abdulelah Al Amri and Hassan Altambakti joined forces to block Oberlin Pineda's block midway through the half before the Mexico playmaker's diving header was brilliantly blocked by Sultan Al Ghanam moments later.
Ali Al-Hassan glanced a header wide in stoppage-time for Saudi Arabia, but the half belonged to the much-improved Mexicans, who took just two minutes to assert their authority after the break when Henry Martin converted Cesar Montes' flick from a corner to hand them the lead.
Mexico's first goal of the tournament unleashed the shackles, and a second came five minutes later, Chavez's sensational long-range free-kick doubling their advantage to move them to within a goal of cancelling out Poland's goal difference advantage.
News of Argentina's second goal against Poland brought Mexico level with the Poles on points and on goal difference, but their inferior fair play points total left them searching for another goal to qualify.
After Martin saw an effort ruled out for offside, the striker blasted a glorious volley over and Chavez was denied a second spectacular free-kick by the diving Al-Owais before Pineda whistled a shot wide with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Uriel Antuna thought he had scored the goal to send Mexico through two minutes from time, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside. News of Argentina's victory filtered through but with a crucial third goal not forthcoming, Mexico's desperation left them exposed defensively and Al-Dawsari pounced to extinguish their hopes.
After the game, Mexico head coach Gerardo Martino confirmed his reign was over following his side's exit from the tournament.
Former Barcelona boss Martino, who has been in charge of Mexico since January 2019, said: "The contract expired with the final whistle and there is nothing else to do.
"I am the man responsible for the frustration and disappointment.
"It is real sadness and I assume all the responsibility for this huge failure."
Saudi Arabia head coach Herve Renard said: "The result does not reflect the reality of the match, as we deserved to lose by more goals had it not been for Al-Owais. He saved us in the third minute and we couldn't handle Mexico's intensity and enthusiasm in the duels.
"We suffered physically, and we had to adapt to the injury of defender Ali Al-Bulaihi. Mexico were the better team, and we knew that they would play aggressively in order to score more goals to qualify for the next round.
"The squad includes 26 players, and we have to deal with what we have. Yes, injuries affected us, but they are not an excuse. Against Poland, we were the better team, but we weren't efficient in the last third, but today we played poorly."
Mexico goalscorer Luis Chavez said: "We are very frustrated. After the first two games we were left with a lot to do and this last one was not enough for us.
"We didn't have any goals and we had a lack of attention at the back today and it ended up leaving us out.
"We will see what happens next, those of us who have to leave this national team, this cannot happen to Mexico. We had set ourselves the goal of the fifth game and we didn't even reach the fourth."