Mexico crash out of World Cup on goal difference despite Saudi Arabia win as Poland progress

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Mexico missed out on progressing to the last-16 of the World Cup for the first time since 1978 despite beating Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Lusail.

Poland hung on to take second place in Group C on goal difference, joining their final-round opponents Argentina in the knockout phase.

It looked, at one stage, like second spot would be decided on Fair Play with Poland and Mexico locked level on points, goals for and goals against – with the European team in line to go through having received fewer yellow cards during the course of the group.

But Salem Al-Dawsari struck in stoppage time for Saudi Arabia as Mexico threw men forward in search of the third goal that would take them through, allowing Poland a moment or two to breathe easier and begin to prepare for a last-16 meeting with France having lost 2-0 against eventual group winners Argentina in Doha.

Qualification from Group C came right down to the wire, with all four teams entering the final round of fixtures with a chance of moving on.

Efforts from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez were not enough for Mexico on a chastening eve (PA)
Efforts from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez were not enough for Mexico on a chastening eve (PA)

A fast and physical first half was shaded by Mexico, playing with an attacking intent and verve they had lacked in their first two group games. Orbelin Pineda twice had half-chances snuffed out, while Alexis Vega might have made more of an early chance after breaking beyond the Saudi Arabian defence.

The best chance, however, was at the other end, with Ali Al-Hassan flashing a header wide of goal in stoppage time at the end of the half.

Just two minutes after the interval, Mexico took the lead: Mohammed Al-Owais had already been forced into two second-half saves but was powerless to prevent Henry Martin turning home after a corner was flicked on to the striker inside the six-yard box.

Luis Chavez’s effort moments later was rather more spectacular – from all of 30 yards, the midfielder released a crisply struck free-kick that curved inexorably in the top corner.

But though Mexico hurled bodies and balls at the Saudi Arabian defence, it would not be breached again.

It was a cruel denial for Mexico, who enlivened a pulsating contest throughout after producing flat performances in their first two games in Qatar but head home with little to show for their efforts.