Mexico and their curse of "El quinto partido"Mexico is one of those very important sides in the history of the World Cup. While they have never won the competition, they always manage to make an impact as one of the tournament's entertainers, and being one of the most constant teams to always qualify in recent decades. Add to that the fact that they always bring a lot of supporters to each edition and you have a very compelling team from a neutral perspective.
However, despite being present in 17 of the 22 editions of the competition and being ever-present since 1994, Mexico has never made it past the round of 16 beyond the two editions they played in home soil, 1970 and 1986. In fact, "el quinto partido" (the fifth match), as the quarterfinals are called by the Mexicans, has become a bit of a curse for the CONCACAF nation and there have been a lot of frustrations along the way, particularly in recent years.
We are going to have a look at the curse of "el quinto partido" and some important points that are worth highlighting.
The context of the curseConsidering the fact that, from 1994 to 2018, Mexico always made it past the round of 16, it is tempting to say that there is a bit of a mental block in the national team, and there are a lot of arguments that point to that particular direction. In fact, it could be argued that at this point there is a lot of pressure regarding "el quinto partido".
The more the editions of the World Cup go by, there is an increasing pressure to deliver results. Mexico has one of the toughest and most obsessive press in the entire world, constantly trying to put pressure on the current head coach, which in return leads to an unstable process that often goes awry.
It is worth pointing out that while making it past to the quarterfinals is a topic in everybody's minds when they reach the World Cup, the federation has rarely supported a process to take things seriously regarding said goal. This is particularly telling when, in recent decades, only Argentinian manager Ricardo La Volpe has only lasted the full four years of a World Cup cycle-and his tenure, from 2002 to 2006, is widely regarded as the best in decades for Mexico.
This lack of stability has often led to the national team being a revolving door of managers and players, with even reports and accusations of some footballers being called up due to their connection with some business people that are bankrolling the national team. It hasn't been proven yet, but is a topic that is often brought up.
The constant changes of the Mexican league, even to the point of allowing multiple owners in the same divisions and eliminating relegation, as of this writing, haven't allowed for a competitive nature to creep in, at least in a consistent manner. All of this leads to a football nation that has a lot of interest for the game, but not the necessary infrastructure for success.
Constant pain and disappointmentThe curse of "el quinto partido" is a constant theme throughout all of Mexico's performances in the World Cup, but recent editions have shown a very distinct element of tragedy in their results. It is almost as if the universe was mocking by keeping them from achieving their desired goal.
A very good example of this can be seen in the 2002 edition of the World Cup, which took place in both South Korea and Japan. Mexico lost 2-0 in the round of 16 against an inexperienced United States team, which allowed the latter to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time in their history while the Mexican nation has still hasn't accomplished that outside their home soil.
It was also very painful as there is a certain degree of rivalry between both teams and the United States was often perceived as a country that didn't take football seriously. This match was arguably one of the kick starters of their rivalry on a much more serious level, and it has become a great example of what happens to Mexico when they reach those rounds.
Tragedy in dignityWhile editions like the 2010 in South Africa and the 2018 one in Russia showed Mexico being massively outclassed by the likes of Argentina and Brazil, respectively, in the round of 16 without much room for debates, there have been some occasions where they were really close to glory and failed to accomplish their goals. This is something that has two marked moments: Germany 2006 and Brazil 2014.
In the 2006 edition, the team led by the aforementioned Ricardo La Volpe, pushed a very strong Argentina squad to extra time and the Mexicans looked like the superior team, but a wonderful goal by Maxi Rodriguez gave the South American nation the lead and, eventually, the qualification to the next round. It is arguably one of the best performances in Mexico's history when it comes to the World Cup and it wasn't enough.
Another similar example happened in the 2014 edition in Brazil where, led by an inspired manager in Miguel Herrera, they faced off against Louis van Gaal's hard as nails Netherlands team. And after Dos Santos opened the score for Mexico in the second half with a wonderful goal, it seemed that this was the time that they were finally going to make it to "el quinto partido".
Except it wasn't.
Wesley Sneijder scored an amazing volley to level the score for the Dutch and then a controversial penalty caused on Arjen Robben was scored by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to take the Netherlands to the quarterfinals. It seemed that destiny didn't want Mexico to make it to the next round.
It has been a running theme for decades with Mexico and, as of this writing, will continue to do so for quite some time.