When Mexico limped to a 1-1 finish at home against Canada in the opener of October’s three-game World Cup qualifying stretch, alarm bells predictably went off among the traditionally tough media who cover El Tri.
But that drama was mostly forgotten as Mexico conquered its next two foes — Honduras and El Salvador — dissipating what could have been a potentially dangerous stretch for manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
Mexico fans also sighed with relief as they watched both the United States and Canada drop points during the window, allowing El Tri to recoup its first-place position with ease.
Early success notwithstanding, as Mexico gears up for perhaps its toughest window one month from now, here are a few questions (and answers) detailing what’s next.
Lessons learned in early flop against Canada?
Against Canada, Mexico had given up its position at the top of the CONCACAF table for the first time en route to Qatar 2022, all the while drawing for the second consecutive game. Worse still, the historic kings of the region had been tripped up at home against an admittedly talented squad, but one that has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986. After the game, Martino said the team “lacked intensity,” and allowed the visitors to dictate play for most of the match.
Even if the result wasn’t ideal, it was still quite feasible beforehand to think Canada would present Mexico with bigger issues than Honduras or El Salvador. Despite a lineup that included Raul Jimenez, Hirving Lozano and Hector Herrera back from injury, Canada’s speed and youth presented Mexico with a test rarely taken within the depths of CONCACAF.
All said, the big lesson from this game was poise. Instead of panicking and trying to do too much in the next game against lowly Honduras, Mexico kept its composure and eventually finished La H off with a 3-0 win that, quite frankly, could have been even more lopsided.
The team’s confidence renewed, a 2-0 win at the Estadio Cuscatlan followed. Long hailed as one of the toughest venues in CONCACAF, Mexico was quick to take El Salvador’s fans out of the game and, at the end, again leave us thinking the team could’ve had a bigger margin of victory.
Is the Azteca still El Tri‘s fortress moving forward?
Yes. Apologies for the lack of suspense — but the quibbling from fans and media about taking El Tri out of its home base after underwhelming performances against Jamaica and Canada is ridiculous. The benefits Mexico gets out of the Estadio Azteca are irreplaceable. If anything, the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) has diluted the venue’s effectiveness by playing games there at night, thereby negating the heat, smog and altitude cocktail that affected rivals in the past.
In essence, the issue does not lie within the stadium itself, which saw its capacity reduced to 87,000 due to recent renovations to accomodate NFL games. It is more with how the FMF chooses to use it. Cherry picking stats to show Mexico doesn’t win nearly every single game at home as they did in the past isn’t a knock on the Azteca. It’s failing to realize the rest of the confederation has grown and closed the gap.
Changing El Tri‘s home games from Mexico City to say, Monterrey or Guadalajara is no deus ex machina that will automatically yield more success, but would rather prove a measure of despotism.
Has “Tata” regained trust from fans and media?
Though it remains a hot topic whenever Mexico fails to meet any kind of expectation, the FMF has not given any indication it is willing to fire Martino at this point. Through six games in World Cup qualifying, there’s no logic to it, either. Honduras has already fired its manager, and even fans of a team like the United States, who are in the direct qualifying zone, find themselves questioning their manager’s decisions constantly.
The stark reality is that, no matter how well Mexico’s results are, a sector of fans and media will never be satisfied with what Martino brings to the table. Any opportunity to point out Martino’s flaws will gladly be taken, even if Mexico has essentially aced the first half of World Cup qualifiers.
Even if Mexico’s next three games — a brutal away stretch that will see them visit the United States, Canada and Jamaica — don’t go to plan, there will be no change at the managerial position as long as El Tri remains in position to book its trip to Qatar.
What can we expect from ahead of November matches?
That being said, Mexico’s remaining road in CONCACAF qualifying will be mostly defined by what they’re able to do in their next two matches. A dream scenario of picking up four, or even six points from the United States and Canada would essentially mean they’re through to the World Cup.
Nevertheless, if they get two, one or (gulp) zero points from these outings, all hope is hardly lost. Yes, Mexico will then be forced to pick up a positive result in Kingston next January, but El Tri will close out its World Cup campaign by hosting four of the last five matches. The favorable schedule will give the team a somewhat comfortable position to make sure the fast start doesn’t go to waste.
Certain player combinations during this window (and limits to player selection come next month due to red cards) have given Martino new ideas. Expect, for instance, Johan Vasquez and Cesar Montes to anchor Mexico’s defense come November, a welcome sight for fans wanting to see the team move on from veteran players such as Hector Moreno and Nestor Araujo.
Despite Lozano and Jimenez both scoring during this international break, Mexico’s lack of potency up front will also need to be addressed. Martino will hope players like Getafe‘s JJ Macias can start to deliver for their club teams in order to be considered moving forward.
Ideally, Mexico gains any combination of results allowing it to remain atop CONCACAF as the winter break beckons. In the worst case scenario, the pressure-filled ambience surrounding El Tri will crop up if Mexico fails to deliver next month. With no games until 2022 after that, the holiday break will surely be a tense one for Martino and his staff.
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