Saudi Arabia and Mexico World Cup: A game of only losers – Sport


As a DJ you really need to get a feel for the mood, but presumably the official Fifa playlist simply has Shakira in mind, come what may. You can’t usually go wrong with Shakira either, because in football there’s almost always one team that won, or at least two that didn’t lose. But on Thursday at 1 a.m., Saudis and Mexicans alike walked away sadly to “Waka Waka.” Everyone had lost.

Saudi Arabia and Mexico were eliminated in the group stage of the World Cup, although both still had a chance of reaching the round of 16 before kick-off. But the 2:1 was not enough for the Central Americans to overtake Poland, the goal difference was too bad. For Mexico it is the first end of the group phase since 1978, from 1994 to 2018 the team failed an incredible seven times in a row in the round of 16, “el quinto partido”, the fifth game, i.e. the quarterfinals, became a national obsession. This time it even ends one game earlier. “No fourth, no fifth game” headlined the newspaper Cambio de Michoacan.

At the stadium after the game, Mexico coach Gerardo Martino announced that his time with the national team was over. “I take responsibility, my contract ends at the final whistle,” he said at the press conference. “I am primarily responsible for the frustration and disappointment that we are experiencing. I feel a great sadness,” he said. Martino has been controversial since his appointment, with his own supporters booing him even during the bumpy qualifying phase. Criticism was even greater in Qatar after he lost to Argentina as an Argentine, especially as he was also the coach of Lionel Messi as Barcelona coach. For Mexico, which is in the top eight in the world, at least in terms of football enthusiasm, dropping out in the preliminary round is unacceptable, especially if the tournament is also taking place in their own country in four years’ time.

In all of this, it almost goes unnoticed how close Mexico was eliminated. Between the 68th and 95th minute, after Argentina’s goal to make it 2-0 in the parallel game and goals from Henry Martin (47′) and a dream free-kick from Luis Chavez (52′), the team was level on points and on goal with Poland in the table. Because the direct comparison also ended in a draw (0:0), Poland would only have qualified for the round of 16 due to the fair play rating due to two fewer yellow cards received. “We knew about the situation, so we kept attacking,” Martino later said. Mexico fired chance after chance on the Saudi goal, the greatest opportunity came from substitute Uriel Antuna, but his goal in the 87th minute started a tad too early and was offside. Only in the 95th minute did Salem Al-Dawsari prevent Saudi Arabia from having cards decide the weal and woe with a goal.

Saudi Arabia has been the largest fan group in Qatar for days

In the group final, coach Hervé Renard’s team did not come close to the excellent performances in the win against Argentina (2-1) or in the flattering 2-0 for Poland. Renard obviously wanted to take advantage of the fact that Mexico were being forced to take the initiative – but waiting was not in his team’s arsenal. The plan seemed to work in the first half, Mexico only had small chances, none of which posed a problem for Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed al-Owais. But after the Mexicans’ double strike immediately after the break, the Saudis lacked the strength to make a comeback. “We did our best, it was difficult for us today,” said Renard. He had to cope with the fact that after a little over half an hour, Ali Al-Bulaihi, his third regular player, was injured – too much for the outsider.

For Saudi Arabia, losing their third group game feels like someone canceled a party they had planned. Thousands had made their way across the border to the neighboring country, and for days they have formed the largest fan group in Qatar. On Lusail Boulevard in front of the stadium, fans took pre-game photos with a shiny gold replica World Cup trophy brought by a boy from the port city of Dammam. “It’s a big day for Saudi football,” Abullah said before the game. Some Saudi fans tried to sing louder than the Mexicans, and most surprisingly, they actually managed.

Of the 80,000 spectators in the stadium, between 50,000 and 60,000 came from the Kingdom, with the remainder being made up of the smaller but equally enthusiastic group of Mexicans. It was bitter irony that what was perhaps the most atmospheric game of the tournament ended up not having a winner. And that’s why the World Cup itself lost that evening in the golden arena of Lusail, because two of the largest fan groups are gone in one fell swoop. The subways will be a little emptier from now on when Shakira sings “Waka Waka” on the way home again.



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