Playing in the round of 16 for the sixth straight tournament, the Mexicans looked like they had finally done everything right against the Netherlands on Sunday.
Their rigid defense was holding the free-scoring Dutch at bay, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made some spectacular saves, and their string of first-half chances produced a goal from Giovani Dos Santos just after the break.
It all unraveled in the 88th minute.
Ochoa couldn't be everywhere at Arena Castelao, and Wesley Sneijder finally beat him with a shot aimed low. A few minutes later, Klaas Jan Huntelaar won it for the Dutch, scoring an injury-time penalty to make it 2-1 after Arjen Robben was taken down by Rafael Marquez.
"The boys are very sad. It was really very painful to go out this way," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. "We were eliminated because of an invented penalty.
"We are going home now and so should the referee."
Herrera argued that Robben should have been cautioned by referee Pedro Proenca for two earlier penalty claims.
He also acknowledged, however, that his players lost their concentration in the final minutes of a match that was stopped twice for official cooling breaks.
Mexico has played at all but five of the 20 World Cups, reaching the quarterfinals as host in both 1970 and 1986, but has been unable to better their record since last hosting the tournament 28 years ago.
On Sunday, the Mexicans excelled against a favored opponent that came into the game outscoring their group rivals 10-3. Mexico, using a 5-3-2 lineup, had only conceded once.
Ochoa was the main reason why.
And the Mexico goalkeeper was a key factor again on Sunday, making a seemingly impossible save in the 57th minute by getting his body in the way as Stefan de Vrij stabbed at the ball. The shot hit the goalkeeper and then bounced off the post.
Nine minutes later, the 28-year-old Ochoa crouched to block a goal-bound shot from Robben, who ran down the right and jumped clear of Marquez.
But shortly after Sneijder scored, Ochoa guessed wrong on Huntelaar's penalty, diving the wrong way and sending Mexico home.
"It isn't easy to go out this way, the way this match went," Ochoa said. "It's just very hard to deal with when victory escapes you this way."
Follow Gatopoulos at http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos
- Sports & Recreation
- Arjen Robben
- Guillermo Ochoa
- Klaas Jan Huntelaar
- Giovani Dos Santos
- Wesley Sneijder