Mexico beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 but were knocked out of the World Cup on goal difference on a night of incredible drama in Doha.
With Argentina beating Poland 2-0 in Group C at 974 Stadium and Mexico leading by the same scoreline at Lusail Stadium in the 94th minute, Gerardo Martino’s side needed one more goal to prevent them from going out under Fifa’s fair play rule.
But Salem Al Dawsari’s consolation goal in added time for Saudi Arabia still sent the distraught Mexicans home, leaving the Polish players celebrating across town.
After a first half with little pace, the game came to life two minutes after the break as Henry Martin reacted fastest to end Cesar Montes’ flick.
The Mexican fans had barely quieted down their celebrations when Luis Chavez curled a magnificent 30-yard free kick into the top corner to send their supporters into pandemonium.
They thought they had another, but Hirving Lozano’s low strike was flagged for offside and Martin should have had a second but flew 12 yards out.
It was all Mexico as they pushed for more goals. Chavez nearly took another stunning free-kick but Mohammed Al Owais saved it and then Orbelín Pineda narrowly curled in.
Mexico thought they had sealed their progress when Uriel Antuna came on late, but that too was flagged offside and they came off in the most atrocious fashion.
Agony for Mexico
The first half was to be forgotten, the drama of the second will be remembered for a long time.
It was absolute chaos before the match, with thousands of Saudi fans crossing the border for a game in which victory would have secured a place in the knockout stage.
But they never really managed to put Mexico under pressure and eventually both teams withdrew from the competition.
At one point, Mexico were to be eliminated because they collected more yellow cards (seven) than Poland (five), with the two teams level on points and goal difference.
While Al Dawsari’s late goal changed little, Mexican fans were still crestfallen at full time, with some hanging around long after the final whistle with their heads in their hands.
Martin’s opener from close range and Chavez’s free-kick angling gave them hope, but two disallowed goals dashed any optimism the group would exit.
The result ends a streak of progression to the knockout stages, having done so at the previous eight World Cups, a streak dating back to 1978.
For Saudi Arabia, the tournament ended in disappointment as they finished bottom of the group despite an opening win against Argentina that will go down as one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history.
Mohamed Kanno had his chances, swerving away from the angle and curling a free-kick from just short, while Ali Al Hassan nearly headed in for the half-time kick.
The stadium was mostly filled with raucous Saudi fans and they went home with a final cheer as Al Dawsari converted coldly late.