Mexico, Brazil and Germany are the only countries to advance out of group play in each of the last six World Cups. Although Brazil went on to win two titles and Germany one over that span, Mexico has lost its first game in the knockout stage each time. As a result, El Tri goes to Russia still searching for that elusive fifth game, a milestone it achieved just once, in 1986, when it played host to the tournament and made it to the quarterfinals. Here’s how those other World Cups ended for Mexico:
After drawing Brazil and finishing unbeaten in group play, Mexico lost to the Netherlands in the knockout round on a penalty kick, one apparently awarded for a tremendous acting performance by Dutch winger Arjen Robben. That marked the third time in six World Cups that Mexico was eliminated in extra time or on a penalty kick.
2010 (South Africa)
Mexico survived a competitive group only to draw powerhouse Argentina in the round of 16. The South Americans ran out to a three-goal lead and cruised to a 3-1 win that wasn’t nearly that close.
The Mexicans were shaky in group play, failing to score against Angola and falling behind Portugal 2-0 in the first 24 minutes. They regrouped for the knockout round, though, where they again faced Argentina, this time falling in extra time.
2002 (South Korea/Japan)
El Tri won its group and entered the knockout round unbeaten only to suffer its most humiliating World Cup loss ever at the hands of the U.S. Goals by Brian McBride and Landon Donovan sent the Americans to the quarterfinals — the country’s best performance of the modern era — and sent the Mexicans home to contemplate a score line that would come to define the rivalry: Dos a cero.
A stoppage-time goal from Luis Hernandez allowed Mexico to earn a draw with the Netherlands and finish group play unbeaten. But once again, the draw for the knockout round was not kind since it matched El Tri with powerful Germany, which got a late game-tying goal from Jurgen Klinsmann en route to a 2-1 win.
1994 (United States)
Mexico played eventual finalist Italy to a draw in the final game of group play and played Bulgaria to a draw over 120 minutes in the knockout round. But the Europeans advanced on penalty kicks in a game both teams finished with just 10 men.