Mexico is tournament’s biggest loser historically

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Mexico soccer fans flooded the streets of Mexico City to watch their long-shot game against Germany. Two monitoring systems picked up an artificial temblor during the celebration of Mexico’s first and only goal.
USA TODAY

MOSCOW — It doesn’t feel like it after such a spectacular start to the tournament, but Mexico is the biggest loser at the World Cup. Wait, check that, it is the biggest loser in history.

That’s right, no team has lost more games, more frequently, across the entire 88-year journey of soccer’s finest competition, as the team known as El Tri, the one that currently carries the hopes of its nation’s collective happiness upon its green-and-white clad shoulders.

Yet before you start thinking this is a hit piece on a team that defied the odds to magnificently sink defending champion Germany in its opening game on Sunday, just hold on a second.

In fact, statistics that show Mexico has experienced the sour taste of defeat more than any other member of the FIFA global family is not a tale of failure, but actually a story of significant and historical success.

Mexico virtually always qualifies for the World Cup. Its record of having participated in 16 of the 21 renditions of the event puts it in truly esteemed company. The last time it failed to qualify was in 1982, it withdrew in 1938 and was banned in 1990 for fielding ineligible players in a youth tournament. In its 16 tournament appearances, Mexico has 25 losses. 

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So therefore, if you play a lot, it stands to reason that unless you are Brazil or Germany, you are probably going to lose a lot. By comparison, the United States has lost 19 times in the World Cup, but no one is going to argue that its pedigree in the championship is close to that of Mexico’s.

Germany, if you ignore for a moment its poor performance to begin this summer’s campaign, is universally known as being defensively masterful. Yet it is that country that has conceded more goals across all World Cups (122) than any other team, primarily as a result of having played more games (106).

Losing doesn’t always equate to a lack of success. New Zealand didn’t lose a single game at the 2010 World Cup, but it didn’t get anywhere either. Three ties were good enough for only third place in its group and an early exit. Mexico, meanwhile, lost twice in that tournament, to Uruguay in group play and then, controversially, against Argentina in the round of 16. Two defeats against New Zealand’s zero, yet without dispute Mexico had the better tournament, New Zealand’s courageous effort as an underdog notwithstanding.

 As it prepares for its second match in Russia, against South Korea in Rostov-on-don on Saturday, Mexico has no intention of losing any time soon. Its triumph over Germany elevated it into the status of genuine contender and favorite to top the group.

Head coach Juan Carlos Osorio has demanded that his group “play with the love of winning and not the fear of losing,” a mindset that shone through with Mexico’s committed and resilient approach.

Many of Mexico’s historic defeats came in the early days of the World Cup, when the tournament was smaller, leaving little room for easy opponents to sneak into the field.

It lost in the group stage in each of the first six times it played in the tournament, but has fallen at the first hurdle just once in nine tries since, a magnificent record that dozens of teams would be proud to own.

To satisfy the ambitions of the country, it will need to do a little better than that this time. The frustration has been in being unable to get out of the round of 16, with six straight losses at that juncture. This summer, there is more hope than at any time in recent memory, and justifiably so.

Yet no one in Mexico truly expects the team to go on and win the tournament. It has been a superb effort so far and the spirit of the nation wants it to continue. They know that a defeat will likely come again this time, like it has so many times before, but preferably later rather than sooner.

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