Mexico had long talked about getting to the “quinto partido” at this World Cup and nearly paid the price for overlooking the “tercer partido.”
El Tri backed into the round of 16 on Wednesday, getting routed 3-0 by surprising Group F winner Sweden in Ekaterinburg but still finishing runners-up after South Korea’s shock 2-0 scoreline dumped defending champion Germany out of the tournament.
Mexico is in the knockout round for the seventh consecutive World Cup and will try once more to reach the quarterfinals for the first time from all those appearances, having failed to do so since 1986 as host. But after impressive victories over Germany and South Korea, El Tri were overrun by a determined Sweden side and relegated to face the winner of Group E on Monday in Samara.
Ludwig Augustinsson and Andreas Granqvist scored goals 12 minutes apart in the second half for the Blagult before an own goal by Mexico defender Edson Alvarez completed the scoring in the 74th minute. Sweden, which has reached the knockout round the last four times it has participated in the World Cup, will play the runner-up from Group E on Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
Knowing they needed a victory to come out of the group, Sweden came out intently looking for an early lead. Emil Forsberg lashed a curling shot from an acute angle that Mexico goalkeeper Memo Ochoa stopped in the fifth minute, and Granqvist headed a corner wide on 10 minutes.
El Tri fashioned their first scoring chance on the counter just after the quarter-hour when Hirving Lozano found Carlos Vela at the top of the penalty area, but his curling left-footed shot went narrowly wide of the upper left post. That signed the start of end-to-end action as Marcus Berg spurned a scoring chance when his volley from inside 10 yards went over the bar.
Sweden had a penalty shout in the 28th minute when Javier Hernandez turned upfield and appeared to make contact with the ball with his right arm. Referee Nestor Pitana consulted VAR and determined he made the right no-call as play continued, with the fourth official incurring the wrath of Sweden coach Janne Andersson.
Berg planted a header on target in the 30th minute that Ochoa tipped over the bar before Vela missed another chance wide and Lozano was unable to get a touch on Jesus Gallardo’s cross in the 41st minute. Berg had one last chance in stoppage time, but fired a sharp-angled shot into the side netting. Both matches went to halftime scoreless, setting up a tense 45 minutes in both stadiums.
Sweden’s breakthrough in the 50th minute started with Berg on the right side as he sent a cross into the penalty area that Viktor Claesson clipped before Augustinsson volleyed with his left foot from close range on the left off Ochoa’s arm and into the net.
The Blagult doubled their lead on 62 minutes as Granqvist converted his second penalty of group play. Hector Moreno made a clumsy challenge on Berg, and Pitana made no hesitation in pointing to the spot while giving the Mexico defender a yellow card that ruled him out of the next match. The Sweden defender lashed his spot kick into the upper left corner over a diving Ochoa.
Alvarez then made a complete hash of a Sweden throw-in on the own goal, whiffing on a clearance with his right leg before it bounced off his left hip and rolled inside the left post.
By this point, all El Tri and their supporters could do was anxiously follow the events in Kazan knowing one goal by Germany — throwing everyone forward — would make them the first team in the history of the World Cup to be eliminated from group play on six points.
Vela missed a point-blank header in the 81st minute as Mexico tried to create a respectable scoreline, and players were getting updates from the bench as to the goings-on in the other match. The crowd erupted during stoppage time when it appeared South Korea had scored the breakthrough goal to save Mexico, then erupted again two minutes later when VAR had confirmed it.