Mexico’s mistake at the World Cup was to peak at the first obstacle

El Tri were breathtaking in their opening match against Germany but they stumbled badly after failing to adapt to Sweden

Mexico chewed through 11 coaches in the nine years that followed their second-round exit at the 2006 World Cup. The result: successive second-round exits in South Africa and Brazil. Since his appointment in late 2015, Juan Carlos Osorio has presided over an exceptional period of stability and progress for El Tri. From the beginning he pledged to do things differently. Gone were the melodrama, nostalgia and hyperventilation traditionally associated with management of the Mexican national team; in their place Osorio, erudite and understated, offered innovation, meticulous preparation and a tactical flexibility that stayed true to Mexico’s tradition of musketeering football. The early results were promising. There was a long unbeaten streak in Osorio’s first six months in the job, as well as a semi-final appearance at last year’s Confederations Cup, and qualification for this World Cup – in a Hexagonal which the US men’s national team did everything in its power to turn into an effective Pentagonal – never looked in doubt. Planning for Russia was typically meticulous, involving cutting-edge sleep science, the assistance of a team psychologist, special mattresses, and a culinary regime built on the fortifying power of cherry juice and “tortillas that taste like glory”. The result: for the seventh World Cup in a row, Mexico have departed at the round of 16. Neither the chaos of the pre-Osorio era nor the stability that’s followed has allowed the Mexicans to break the fabled curse of el quinto partido. The quest for El Tri to carry a World Cup campaign into a fifth match continues.

This was, on paper at least, the strongest Mexico squad in years, perhaps ever, built around a spine of players – Guillermo Ochoa in goal, Hugo Ayala and Miguel Layun at the back, midfielder Andres Guardado, and the attacking duo of Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela – who had all come up with the all-conquering under-17 side that won the 2005 world championship and were now in the prime of their careers.

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