Mexico end Saudi Arabia's World Cup dream but still exit tournament

Herve Renard's team are left with only the memories of a glorious win over Argentina to show from Group C campaign

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Mexico struck twice in five minutes, and Saudi Arabia’s World Cup dream was done.

The conquerors of Argentina would ultimately have only that to show for Qatar 2022, a second successive Group C defeat consigning the Gulf side to the foot of the standings. Given what Herve Renard’s men have provided this past fortnight, it felt hugely unfair.

At least the trip home would be short. Yet painful, too.

The 2-1 loss at Lusail Stadium, which rumbled and raged on an expectant Wednesday night, meant there would no knockout spot for Saudi, a campaign that began with one of the great World Cup upsets concluding like too many before.

In six attempts at the tournament, a team from the kingdom have emerged from the groups only once. That venerated bunch from 1994 remain the sole entry in the record books.

Having shocked Argentina and then pushed Poland without breaking through, Saudi succumbed to their least impressive display right when they could not afford it.

Yes, they were ravaged by injury and suspension to key contributors, but they were ragged for the majority, Mexico that bit more willing and wily. The Central Americans needed a victory to stand any chance of progressing; ultimately, also for the perennial knockout participants, it was not to be.

Still, Mexico sealed the win in a blitz at the start of the second half. Henry Martin followed Cesar Montes’s flick-on from a corner and, as Saudi Arabia stood static, he bundled home from close range.

Minutes later, Luis Chavez curled a free-kick from 30 yards far beyond Mohammed Al Owais. One of the goals of the tournament thus far, there was nothing the Saudi goalkeeper could do.

Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 2 - player ratings

Al Owais had already stood strong in the first half, thwarting an advancing Alexis Vega as early as the third minute, as Saudi Arabia struggled to gain a foothold.

It did not help that they later lost Ali Al Bulaihi to injury, the defender joining an already lengthy list of important absentees. Oh, what Saudi could have done with captain Salman Al Faraj, or full-backs Yasser Al Shahrani and Mohammed Al Breik, or midfielder Abdulellah Al Malki. The latter, typically tenacious in protecting his backline, was suspended. He left a significant hole that Saudi failed to plug.

Two goals down, Saudi had to abandon all caution. But they could not conjure any clear-cut chances. Instead, it played into Mexican hands. Tato Martinez's team bounded forward on the break, but were often wasteful. They had two goals disallowed for offside. They really should have scored more.

It would have been harsh on Saudi Arabia, not necessarily for Wednesday’s effort but those initial two performances, when they shook the world and then picked at Poland.

In injury-time, Salem Al Dawsari concluded a brilliant move to pull one back, adding to his winner against Argentina.

However, it would not be enough. In the end, neither also for Mexico. Poland, beaten in the other group game by Argentina, snatched the runner-up slot. They advance to the last 16, alongside Lionel Messi's lot. Saudi, having dreamt of seizing their own slice of history, did not.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 10:18 PM