Mexico, toothless and predictable, slumps out of Copa América after Ecuador stalemate, late drama

<a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Mexico;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Mexico</a> striker <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Santiago Giménez;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Santiago Giménez</a> was silenced by <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Ecuador;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Ecuador</a> at Copa América. (AP Foto/Rick Scuteri)

Mexico didn't quite crash out of the 2024 Copa América; it slumped, gradually, impotently, to an early exit.

It drew Ecuador 0-0 on Sunday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, failing to score for a second consecutive game — and losing the chance to snatch a dramatic stoppage-time winner after VAR overturned a penalty.

The draw doomed Mexico to third place in Group B, behind Ecuador and Venezuela. And it kick-started a long summer of questions about this generation of Mexican players, about the system that produced them, and about whether head coach Jaime Lozano is the right man to lead them toward the 2026 World Cup.

On Sunday, they opened with energy and intensity, with the desire of prideful players desperate to lift their soccer-obsessed country — but incapable of doing so.

They hurtled into tackles and plunged into 50-50 duels. They occasionally won the ball high up the field, and energized a roaring crowd in Arizona — but even when they did, they hardly created any clear-cut chances.

Whenever they ventured into the final third, they conjured zero creativity.

Whenever they formulated a clever pass in their brains, no teammate moved off the ball to bring that pass to life.

Whenever they wound up to shoot, or leapt for a header, they fired shots high or wide. None of their 10 first-half attempts ended up on target.

Every toothless incursion recalled the words of U.S. defender Tim Ream in March.

"We knew they were predictable. It's the most direct Mexico team that there's been,” Ream said after beating Mexico 2-0. “We knew exactly what was coming, and we knew exactly how to make the game ours."

Ecuador, surely, did too.

The Ecuadorians also knew they needed only a draw. Their goals against Venezuela and Jamaica in earlier games gave them an advantage on goal differential. So they knew they could advance to a quarterfinal against Argentina without scoring again. The onus was on Mexico to find a goal, disrupt Group B’s table, and sneak into second place.

And El Tri couldn’t.

They howled for penalties, but never got one.

Feyenoord's Santiago Giménez bustled into the box, but didn’t look like the fearsome striker he’s been in the Netherlands.

Luis Romo finally fired Mexico’s first shot on target after 64 minutes, but it was right down the throat of Ecuadorian keeper Alexander Domínguez.

Julián Quiñones tested Dominguez a minute later; and Giménez pounced on the rebound, but hit the post. They simply could not score.

So they were the first top seed to perish at the 2024 Copa América.

Their seed, though, was deceptive. They were, on paper, the second-best team in CONCACAF, but they are in the midst of a long-overdue rebuild. Lozano, apparently with more job security than some predecessors, omitted several mainstays, including Hirving “Chucky” Lozano and Raúl Jiménez, from his 26-man roster for the tournament. The idea was to break in unheralded domestic stars who’d been blocked on depth charts by national team veterans, but who could possibly contribute come 2026.

“We are two years away from our World Cup,” Duilio Davino, Mexico’s sporting director, said after the squad was announced. “[As co-hosts,] we have our spot secured, and we want to take advantage of this great opportunity to not think about the immediacy of the result and project our path to 2026.”

Lozano, speaking at the same news conference in Mexico City, agreed: “What’s most important is what we are building towards 2026 and 2030. If we focus on results, we’ll end up exactly where we almost always do.”

So they conceded, implicitly, that they probably wouldn’t win this Copa América.

But fans still expected more than this, more than one goal in 270 minutes, more than a group-stage exit that offered little-to-no evidence of progress.

Instead, it offered a reminder that the rebuild has been forced, that the generational transition has been anything but organic. It hasn't been accelerated by a promising wave of youngsters. It's been dictated from above by officials in search of new blood, whether that new blood will ever be robust enough to drag Mexico back to where it believes it belongs, in or around the world's top 10 international soccer teams.

The caveat here at Copa América, and perhaps the convenient excuse for failure, is that El Tri's captain and most accomplished player, Edson Álvarez, limped out of the tournament 27 minutes into Mexico's opener.

But the end result was unequivocal.

Venezuela, which has never qualified for a World Cup, topped the group with nine points, and will face Canada in one quarterfinal Friday in Arlington, Texas.

Ecuador will get Argentina in another Thursday in Houston.

Mexico won't play another competitive game until November.

  • FULL TIME: Ecuador 0-0 Mexico

    Mexico eliminated with the draw. Ecuador is headed to the quarterfinals to face Argentina on July 4 in Houston.

  • 97' Penalty awarded to Mexico ...

    but it is overturned after review. No era penal.

  • 94' Yellow card

    Mexico's Uriel Antuna goes in the book.

  • Venezuela beats Jamaica, wins Group B unscathed

  • 90' +8 minutes added

  • 89' Substitution

    Mexico's Gerardo Arteaga comes out after an injury for Alexis Vegas.

  • 88' Alvarez is all of Mexico right now

  • 85' Mexico substitutions

    Erick Sanchez replaces Luis Romo and Jordi Cortizo comes in for Julian Quinones.

  • 82' Yellow card

    Johan Vasquez booked.

  • 76' Substitution

    Ecuador subs in Angel Mena and Carlos Gruezo for Jeremy Sarmiento and Kevin Rodriguez.

  • 73' Yellow card

    Luis Chavez carded.

  • 71' Johan Vasquez takes a shot from deep

    Predictably, the Mexican defender's shot is blocked by Dominguez.

  • 67' Substitutions

    Ecuador replaces Alan Minda with Kendry Paez. Uriel Antuna replaces Cesar Huerta and Guillermo Martinez subs in for Orbelin Pineda for Mexico.

  • 65' Quiñones denied, then Gimenez

  • 57' No penalty for Mexico after VAR review

  • 49' Yellow card

    Mexico's Sánchez goes in the book

  • Meanwhile, in Jamaica-Venezuela

  • Second half underway

    As things stand in Group B, Venezuela and Ecuador would advance to the quarters. Mexico, with 0 shots on target so far tonight and just 1 goal in the tournament, needs to get creative if it hopes to continue its run.

  • HALFTIME: Ecuador 0-0 Mexico

  • 46' Gimenez's header goes over the crossbar

  • 43' Yellow card

    Ecuador's Moises Caicedo gets carded for an ugly foul on Mexico's Pineda.

  • 33' Gimenez's struggles continue

  • This game has epitomized El Tri

    Thirty minutes in, this game has encapsulated the current iteration of Mexico.

    Eager, intense, committed to the cause, but zero attacking creativity whatsoever, zero clever combinations, very few chances.

    U.S. defender Tim Ream said it best after beating Mexico 2-0 in the Nations League final in March: "We knew they were predictable. It's the most direct Mexico team that there's been. ... We knew exactly what was coming, and we knew exactly how to make the game ours."

  • 21' Huerta's header is way off

  • Both sides playing tough and the refs' whistles are staying quiet

  • Mexico's energetic start

    Mexican players have been hurtling into tackles, plunging into 50-50 duels at every opportunity. Great intensity.

    But intensity has never been the issue with this team. Quality has been. And quality is probably going to be necessary to get a goal, and get the win that, again, is Mexico's only ticket to the quarterfinals.

  • Interesting non-call

  • 6' Yellow card

    Mexico's Montes is booked for an early foul on Ecuador's Valencia.

  • Here we go ...

    The ball is rolling and the match is underway at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

  • Ecuador captain Enner Valencia is back after 1-game suspension

  • Mexico, Ecuador fans are ready

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JUNE 30: A Mexico fan looks on prior to the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group D match between Mexico and Ecuador at State Farm Stadium on June 30, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JUNE 30: An Ecuador fan reacts prior to the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group D match between Mexico and Ecuador at State Farm Stadium on June 30, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
    (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
  • Group B scenarios

    Mexico can only advance to the quarterfinals with a win tonight over Ecuador. A tie or a loss would eliminate El Tri from moving on. If Mexico and Ecuador ends in a draw, they would each have four points, but Ecuador would hold the tie breaker with better goal difference.

    Mexico winning would guarantee a spot in the knockout stage, but its next opponent would be determined by the outcome of the other Group B match between Venezuela and Jamaica. Venezuela, with six points in hand, has clinched a spot in the knockout round. Jamaica, already eliminated and playing mostly for pride, could make things interesting with a big win and knock Venezuela into second place.

    The team that finishes in first place in Group B will face Canada, but the second place team will go up against mighty Argentina, the reigning World Cup and Copa América champions.

  • Lineups for Mexico and Ecuador

  • Welcome to Yahoo Sports and our live coverage of the Copa América clash between Mexico and Ecuador.

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JUNE 30: A general view inside the stadium prior to the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group D match between Mexico and Ecuador at State Farm Stadium on June 30, 2024 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
    State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, ahead of Sunday's match between Ecuador and Mexico. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)