Saudi Arabia 1 Mexico 2
Martino takes fall for 'huge failure' as Mexico exit on goal difference
Once the initial outrage directed the way of Gerardo 'Tata' Martino subsides, they will probably still be waking up weeks from now in Mexico having nightmares about Mohammed Al Owais.
While his team-mates had run out of puff, their great World Cup adventure finally catching up with them in the most one sided of second halves here, the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper stuck his finger in the dam and somehow prevented it from bursting.
Mexico gave as good as they got. They were belatedly brilliant, overwhelming the Saudi defence time and again and teeing up this ensuing siege with two goals soon after the restart from Henry Martin and Luis Chavez. The only problem was Al Owais was better and, by the agonising end, all there was left for Mexicans to do was to cast a torrent of blame at the Argentine Martino, who leaves his post as the first coach to fail to lead the country to the Round of 16 in the last eight editions of the World Cup.
“I assume all responsibility for this huge failure,” Martino said. “My contract expired with the final whistle and there is nothing else to do.”
Level on goal difference and goals scored with Poland but trailing in the fairplay stakes by virtue of having collected a couple more bookings, Mexico craved a third goal as the game entered its final, nerve-shredding stages. It didn’t matter how the ball went in; it just needed to go in. But there was Al Owais, apparently not good enough to be first choice at his club, Al Hilal, but a one-man army of defiance in the splendid Lusail Stadium that oohed and ahhed until finally all Mexican hope evaporated and the finger pointing began when Saudi scored on a rare break in the fifth minute of stoppage time. Salem Aldawsari got the goal and suddenly Mexico’s players were down on their knees.
And so the privilege of facing reigning champions France at the Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday instead falls to the Poles who, despite their 2-0 defeat to Argentina, progressed by virtue of a one better goal difference.
On the touchline, Martino had kicked every ball, willing his players to find that one moment of inspiration while hoping down the road at Stadium 974 his compatriots would do him a favour by scoring a third. His prayers went unanswered and, watching Mexico attack with such intensity in that second period, you had to wonder why it took them so long to find their spark at the tournament. Chavez said the fault rested with the players but could not helping aiming a dig at his manager’s tactics in 2-0 defeat to Argentina. “I would say in the second match we didn’t fully understand what he wanted to see on the pitch,” he said.
As for Saudi, back at the scene of their shock win over Argentina, they will always be able to cherish that memory but that astonishing 2-1 victory ultimately proved a false dawn and the absence of several key men through injury and suspension here took a heavy toll.
After an even first half, Mexico turned the screw and Saudi succumbed, fatigue taking its toll as they lost their shape and began turning over the ball far too cheaply. Al Owais had already made a couple of good saves before Mexico went in front. Cesar Montes flicked on a corner and Martin was on hand to slot home a volley from a couple of yards.
Five minutes later, Mexico had doubled their advantage with one of the goals of the tournament when Chavez scored with a sublime free-kick hit with pace and whip that arced quite deliciously into the top corner. It had to be that good because Al Owais was in imperious form. Chavez would have two more free-kicks saved after that and Hirving Lozano had a shot that was headed for the bottom corner plucked away by the Saudi goalkeeper. Lozano did have the ball in the net - and Uriel Antuna did, too - but both were ruled out for offside. Wave after wave of Mexico attacks rained down on Saudi but either the finish was not quite there or Al Owais got in the way.
After an even first half, Mexico turned the screw and Saudi Arabia succumbed. Al Owais had already made a couple of good saves before Mexico went in front. Cesar Montes flicked on a corner and Henry Martin was on hand to slot home a volley from a couple of yards before Saleh Al Shehri could get there. Five minutes later, Mexico had doubled their advantage with one of the goals of the tournament when Luis Chavez scored with a sublime free-kick. There is something so stylistically enchanting about a left foot free-kick hit with speed and whip and the arc on the ball as it flew into the top corner was gorgeous. It was not a bad way to bring up your first international goal but it had to be that good because Al Owais was not in the mood to let much past him.
Chavez would have two more free-kicks saved after that and he was not the only one to be left frustrated by the Saudi goalkeeper. Hirving Lozano thought a shot was heading for the bottom corner only for Al Owais to claw a hand to the ball. Lozano did have the ball in the net – and Uriel Antuna did, too – but both were ruled out for offside. Wave after wave of Mexico attacks rained down on Saudi but either the finish was not quite there or Al Owais got in the way.
The first period had given no clues to the Mexican dominance that would follow the interval. Herve Renard denied this week that Saudi’s government had gifted his players a Rolls Royce apiece in recognition of their achievement in beating Argentina but this was more like the Delorean of first periods. It looked intriguing, promised plenty and got everyone rather excitable for a while but never really took off and ultimately left you longing for more. Good chances for Mexico’s Alexis Vega and Saudi’s Ali Al Hassan bookend the half but the frantic pace seemed to stifle the quality rather than supplement it as the Lusail brimmed with nervous tension and both teams excelled at shutting down space quickly and aggressively before the game became a rather stop-start niggle fest.
Then came the Al Owais show and Mexican heartbreak.
Saudi Arabia vs Mexico, as it happened
In case you didn't see Chavez's free-kick yet
Mexico players gutted after Saudi Arabia goal
Mexico probably deserved to win by more tonight. They played very well in the second half and showed what they are capable of.
A good goal from Martin and a wonderful free-kick from Chavez had put Mexico in with a chance, but they were pegged back by a nice move which was finished by Aldawsari.
But really, Mexico didn't progress because they failed to score against Poland or Argentina. They will regret not playing better in those games.
Full time: Saudi Arabia 1 Mexico 2
Both teams are out despite a strong performance from Mexico.
Poland sneak through on goal difference.
Saudi Arabia break Mexican hearts!!
A great one-two puts through Salem Aldawsari who finishes well.
Saudi Arabia 1 Mexico 2
90+4 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
The other match has finished 2-0 to Argentina. Mexico need a goal to go through. Only three minutes left.
90+2 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Lozano hits it straight and the keeper palms it away.
90+1 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Another free-kick outside the box as Al Amri drags down Funes Mori.
90 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
A bit of a delay after Madu was down injured. Michael Oliver pointed to his watch to say it will all be added on.
Seven minutes added on.
87 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Mexico have another goal ruled out for offside. Antuna ran too early for a through ball before he dispatched it past the keeper.
Will he regret not timing his run better? Not long to go.
85 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
It looked like Chavez was through for Mexico, having nicked the ball away, but Michael Oliver pulled it back for an earlier foul.
83 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Lozano touched it to the side but Chavez's shot was blocked by Sharahili.
82 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Free-kick to Mexico just outside the box. Lozano was breaking through and Madu impeded him.
Could Chavez do it again?
79 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
The yellow card situation is now five for Poland and seven for Mexico. If they have the same amount of yellow cards, there will be a drawing of lots to see who goes through.
78 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Pineda goes close! The midfielder tried to curl it into the far corner after Martin set him up well, but it goes past the post.
Raul Jimenez and Carlos Rodriguez are on for Martin and Pineda.
73 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
From a similar spot to the second goal, Chavez nearly does it with a free-kick again!
He puts it the opposite side to last time and it's a great save from the keeper.
It was nearly like Leigh Griffiths for Scotland against England in 2017.
70 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Great chance for Mexico!
Martin has a left-footed volley when it's just the keeper between him and the goal, but he puts it over the bar.
69 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
This has been an intense game. It's been end-to-end and Mexico have really been threatening in this second half.
At the moment they're still going out, due to having received more yellow cards than Poland.
The two sides have the same goals scored and the same goal difference.
67 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Penalty shout: Martin goes down inside the Saudi Box under a challenge from Tambakti.
Lozano then has a decent strike from outside the box but it's saved by the keeper.
Pictures from the goals
61 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Luis Chavez has a great left peg. His goal was superb and the last couple of free-kicks have also been top quality.
He's shown so far that he's got an eye for goal, and I wouldn't rule him out for playing a big part in another.
59 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Mexico nearly have another from a corner. A great deep cross is searching for Lozano at the back post, but it was headed behind by a defender. The goalie had tried to swipe at it but it was past him.
56 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
Mexico have a goal ruled out!
Lozano has the ball in the net but the linesman has his flag up. No need for Var as the player who played it to Lozano was clearly offside.
What a free-kick from Chavez!!!
Mexico only need one more now.
Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 2
51 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 1
Mexico now need a two goal swing to finish ahead of Poland.
Martin with the finish from a corner. The corner came in low and was flicked on by Montes, before Martin put it in the net.
Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 1.
Second half begins
Saudi Arabia kick off.
Subs: Antuna on for Vega for Mexico. Madu on for Alhassan for Saudi Arabia.
As it stands
Poland and Argentina are going through, while Saudi Arabia and Mexico are going out.
Poland will go through on goal difference.
Half time: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
An exciting first half, but not loads of chances. Mexico have had the better of it, but Saudi Arabia deserve to be level because they have defended so well.
Whether they can stand the pressure in the second half remains to be seen.
45+5 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Al-Buraikan looked like he was going through on goal for Saudi Arabia but Gallardo muscled him away to recover. There were shouts for a foul among the Saudis, and it did look like a bit of a push but Michael Oliver said nothing doing.
Saudi Arabia then had a bit of pressure. Al Ghanam used some good pace out wide and crossed it in, but Alhassan's header was poor.
45 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Six minutes added time.
42 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Nearly for Mexico! Good play from Lozano to take it past a couple of players. He then teed up Pineda on the edge of the box, whose shot was deflected wide for a corner.
38 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Sub for Saudi Arabia: Albulayhi goes off for Sharahili.
Albulayhi injured himself after a shove from Hirving Lozano while he was showing the ball out for a goal kick earlier on.
37 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Chance for Mexico! A smart corner where one player ran over the ball before another hit it fell to Jose Gallardo just inside the box, but it was a poor volley on his weak foot from the full-back.
It was creative, though.
35 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
It's heating up here, with more tackles flying in.
Alhassan was just booked for taking down Chavez after a nutmeg.
Mexico still in the ascendency.
29 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
A good chance for Mexico. Lozano with a great cross to the back post, which Pineda heads off Al Ghanam. The header should have been better but Saudi Arabia are making some good blocks.
The Saudis are giving the Mexicans too much time and space in wide areas, which is allowing them to get crosses in.
26 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
The Mexico left-back Gallardo has been getting forward a lot so far. he may be one to watch for the rest of the match.
Luis Chavez had a chance after the ball sat up nicely for a volley from outside the box. But his left-footed attempt was scooped up by the keeper.
Pineda then had a decent opportunity after the ball broke to him inside the box and he got there before two Saudi defenders, but he didn't make a good connection.
Mostly Mexican pressure at the moment.
19 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
After a bright opening, the match has been a bit stop-start in the last few minutes.
Mexico have most of the ball, but have only had one real chance so far.
Both teams are much improved from last time out.
Let us know what you think of the players' performances.
14 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Kanno puts a free-kick from just outside the box over the bar.
It was well-hit and would have caught Ochoa unaware if it had been on target.
9 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Chance for Mexico! A great cross in from Gallardo and Al Owais seems to wait an eternity for it. Martin almost nicks in ahead of him but the keeper manages to get it away.
Saudi Arabia then break up the park and Al-Dawsari sets up Kanno, who controls the ball but puts it over the bar.
6 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Saudi Arabia's star player Salem Aldawsari, who scored the second goal against Argentina, is down injured.
He would be a great miss to the team.
3 mins: Saudi Arabia 0 Mexico 0
Chance for Mexico! Vega was played through and tried to lift the ball over Al Owais but the keeper blocked it.
It's been end-to-end so far.
As it stands
Poland and Argentina are going through and Saudi Arabia and Mexico are going out.
And we're off
English referee Michael Oliver blows the whistle and Mexico kick off to start the match.
Teams are on the field
Saudi Arabi and Mexico have now lined up on the pitch to sing their national anthems.
There are loads of Saudis in the crowd, and there was quite a din while the anthem was going on.
Mexico seem to have a fair support as well as their fans belt it out.
Breaking news coming out of the England camp
Ben White has left England's squad for personal reasons and is set to miss the rest of the World Cup.
The Arsenal centre-back missed the Group B win over Wales on Monday through illness after being an unused substitute against Iran and USA.
You can read more here.
What both teams need to progress
Saudi Arabia will go through if they win and will go out if they lose. A draw would also send them through if Poland beat Argentina but draws in both games mean they are out. It'll be down to goal difference if Argentina beat Poland and Saudi Arabia draw.
Mexico must win. If Poland also win, Mexico are through. If Poland draw, or if Argentina win it'll be down to goal difference.
Three changes for Saudi Arabia
The Saudis have also made few changes from their 2-0 defeat to Poland.
Defender Hassan Altambakti, right-back Sultan Al-Ghannam and midfielder Ali Alhassan all come in.
Mohammed Alburayk, Abdulelah Almalki and Sami Al-Najei all drop to the bench.
Guardado and Herrera dropped for Mexico
Mexico have dropped veterans Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera for this match.
The pair, who have nearly 300 caps between them, started in midfield in the 2-0 loss against Argentina.
Defenders Nestor Araujo and Kevin Alvarez also drop to the bench.
Henry Martin, Orbelin Pineda, Edson Alvarez and Jorge Sanchez come in.
The team is lining up differently than it did against Argentina, with it looking like a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 5-3-2.
The teams are out!
Saudi Arabia: Al-Owais, Tambakti, Al-Amri, Al-Bulayhi, Al-Ghanam, Al-Hassan, Kanno, Abdulhamid, Al-Buraikan, Al-Shehri, Salem Al-Dawsari.
Subs: Madu, Otayf, Al-Naji, Al-Abed, Bahbri, Al-Aboud, Al-Aqidi, Nasser Al-Dawsari, Asiri, Sharahili, Al-Rubaie.
Mexico: Ochoa, Sanchez, Montes, Moreno, Gallardo, Edson Alvarez, Chavez, Lozano, Pineda, Vega, Martin.
Subs: Talavera, Araujo, Vasquez, Arteaga, Romo, Rodriguez, Jimenez, Funes Mori, Cota, Gutierrez, Herrera, Guardado, Antuna, Alvarado, Kevin Alvarez.
Can Saudi Arabia seize the chance to make history?
Saudi Arabia's win over favourites Argentina sparked this tournament to life: the slaying of a World Cup giant by a country that had only previously won three World Cup matches in its history.
They may have lost 2-0 to Poland, but it was only the goalkeeping heroics of former Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczesny – including a penalty save – which stopped Herve Renard's spirited side from getting anything out of that match.
A win over Mexico this evening would send the Saudis through to the knockout stage for only their second time in history – as long as Argentina do not beat Poland – and would cement an unlikely dark horse status for this tournament.
"If these players want the fans to remember them they have to make history, otherwise people will forget in 20 or 30 years, because the last time we reached the second round was in 1994," said Renard.
"The most important thing is that we are still alive for this game and we have the chance to qualify, but we will have to fight very hard. Mexico have a lot of experience in the World Cup and a better record than Saudi Arabia."
Renard has been forced into changes for this match, but even a draw would be enough if Poland beat Argentina tonight.
Talismanic captain Salman Al-Faraj has already headed home after being ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a leg injury, while fellow midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki is suspended after picking up two yellow cards.
Mexico can qualify with a win if Argentina lose to Poland, but goals have been a serious problem for the central Americans this tournament and they are yet to find the net alongside Uruguay – a feat that even Qatar have achieved.
Not qualifying would be a serious blow to Mexico's pride. They have reached the knockout stages at the last seven World Cups, tied for the longest current streak with Brazil.
Their Argentinian head coach Gerardo Martino will likely lose his job if his side break this run.
On the lack of goals, he said: "What happened during the last year was due to different reasons as we had our attacking players facing physical issues. Some of them are in good condition at the World Cup, but this is not just about attackers. We all share our responsibilities.
"It is up to the whole team not just certain positions.
"We respect our opponents and are not unaware of what they did against Argentina and in the first half against Poland. I don't have a fear, when we compete we don't feel fear,"