Mexico can’t return favor to U.S. and misses out on WC qualifying record

El Tri fans may be happy to see their rival miss out on the World Cup, but the team won't be pleased with suffering a defeat to close out the Hex

It could've been Saint Guardado.

Four years ago, on the final night of the Hexagonal round of qualifying, it was Mexico that needed divine intervention from the head of Graham Zusi. With the United States' defeat to Trinidad and Tobago finished, Andres Guardado stepped over a free kick from outside the box with a chance not only to give El Tri a perfect World Cup qualification but also to gift the U.S. life and return the favor. The free kick went into the wall, and with it El Tri's hopes of being the best team in Hex history.

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said he was proud of his team's campaign but disappointed not to write their names in the record books.

"We're sad not to be able to have achieved the record for most points in the final Hexagonal," Osorio said in his post-match news conference.

That disappointment will fade quickly when the players see the images of despair on the face of American players. Rivalries are better when both teams are successful. The 2002 World Cup quarterfinal was frustrating for Mexico, but the chance of it happening again was and always will be enticing. That will not happen in Russia. Mexico strolled to its berth in Russia but on the final night of qualification, Alberth Elis, Rommel Quioto and the rest of the Honduran national team would not let their dream of a third consecutive World Cup die.

It started well for Mexico. Oribe Peralta finished off one of the nicest goals of the qualification campaign to give El Tri the lead after heroics from goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa kept Honduras from scoring early. But Los Catrachos had the desire to return to the World Cup for the third consecutive time. Three players surrounded Nestor Araujo on a free kick and Elis applied the touch to draw the home side level. Carlos Vela got a deserved reward from an excellent night with a goal to put Mexico back ahead, but the second half would belong to Honduras. 

Ochoa was unlucky to see a shot bounce in off his back off the crossbar for an own goal that would be an equalizer. And while there will be discussion about whether he was a step ahead of the penultimate defender or not, Rommel Quioto's winner showcased the Houston Dynamo winger's touch and finishing ability. That said, he should've been closed down rather than allowed to find an alley between the two defenders standing in front of him.

It's a disaster for the United States, but the 3-2 Mexico loss isn't good news for El Tri, either. The match was a dead rubber, essentially meaningless. But coach Juan Carlos Osorio and his team spent the days before the match convincing everyone just how much it would mean not only to get a victory and close out the Hex undefeated but to go down in history as the best team ever to go through the final round. They didn't frame it quite like that - it was simply one more of Mexico's 'goals.' It now stands as a goal that wasn't accomplished.

Truthfully, November's tests against Belgium and Poland will be much more indicative of how ready Osorio's team is to take on top competition in Russia. We saw in the Confederations Cup last summer that the defense has its lapses. And so it did Tuesday. Honduras did not forgive the midfield turnovers or the center backs losing track of quick forwards. It did not let Mexico off the hook for lax set piece defending. Neither did Germany in Russia. Nor will whichever teams Mexico ends up facing on their return trip.

Mexico fans may not care about Tuesday's defeat. They may even be happy to see their rival out of the World Cup. But the players wanted to repay the favor, even by accident. They wanted to achieve their goal of becoming the best team in Hex history. Instead, they'll be judged like any other Mexico team, on what they can do on the grandest of stages rather than anything they did before. 

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