Errors pave way for Mexico’s earlier-than-expected World Cup exit

It was a team that was supposed to make history. Instead it only repeated it.

It was a group that was going to accomplish something unique. Instead it simply copied what Mexico’s last four World Cup teams did.

With its 3-1 loss to Argentina on Sunday at Soccer City Stadium, Mexico once again bowed out of the World Cup in the second round — just as it has every fourth summer since 1994.

Sure, the Argentines got some help from another botched call by the officials. But they got just as much from Mexico, which wilted on an otherwise chilly night.

“Two mistakes dramatically, drastically changed the course of the game,” Mexico Coach Javier Aguirre said. “There was a before and an after.”

Before, the game was tied. After, it was over — even though there was nearly an hour left to play.

The first mistake came in the 26th minute, at a time when Argentina appeared confused and Mexico confident.

It began with Lionel Messi charging through the Mexican defense before sending the ball ahead to Carlos Tevez. Mexico keeper Oscar Perez charged out to meet Tevez, knocking the ball away as the Argentine forward stumbled by.

Messi collected the loose ball and chipped it forward again, and this time Tevez headed it into the net for his first of two goals.

Problem was, he was clearly offside — something the Mexicans pointed out immediately. But Italian referee Roberto Rosetti, after a long consultation with assistant referee Stefano Ayroldi, let the goal stand.

“In such an important game like this,” Mexico forward Adolfo Bautista complained afterward.

The second mistake came seven minutes later, and although it wasn’t as controversial, it was just as costly.

With Mexico still reeling from the disputed score, defender Ricardo Osorio, only 20 yards from his own goal, apparently mistook Argentina forward Gonzalo Higuain for a teammate and kicked the ball right to him.

Higuain grabbed the gift, rounded the goalkeeper and put the ball in the back of the net. Just like that, Mexico went from being in control to being on its way home.

“You can analyze the lineups, the changes, but it’s very clear that with two horrible errors it’s difficult to go back to your game,” Aguirre said. “We lost our composure, our concentration.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, of course. This was a team with eight holdovers from the last World Cup. A team with veteran leadership from the likes of Rafael Marquez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, each playing in his third World Cup, and precocious youngsters such as 22-year-old Javier Hernandez, who scored Mexico’s only goal Sunday after the game had largely been decided.

Justino Compean, president of the Mexican soccer federation, had promised the team would reach the quarterfinals, a place only two other Mexico teams had ever gone. And only 24 hours before Sunday’s match Aguirre repeated something he’s been saying since February.

“We’ve been clear since we first got together 13 or 14 months ago,” he said. “We want to break with history, change the course of things.”

Instead they stayed the course, winning only once in four games here, the same as four of the previous five Mexico World Cup teams.

A team of history? Probably not, said Marquez, the captain, who made his own history Sunday by playing in his 12th World Cup game, most ever by a Mexican.

“It’s a good team,” he said. “But we didn’t get the difference to make history. It wasn’t worth anything.”

Perez, who like Marquez probably played his last game with the national team Sunday, agreed.

“We did OK. But the circumstances complicated things,” he said. “It bothers me. . . . When we came here, we wanted this game. And it didn’t work out.”

Now Mexico has to wait another four years before it can try again. You can write a lot of history in that much time.

Or you can spend the time reliving it, which is what at least player predicted the team will be doing.

“We’re going to be thinking about this one awhile,” Andres Guardado said.