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2021 Gold Cup match preview: Mexico vs El Salvador

Mexico will need to get the win if they plan to get first place in Group A.

Guatemala v Mexico: Group A - 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images

Mexico hope to get their ticket to the Gold Cup Quarterfinals as they close out their group stage participation against El Salvador. Many people expected Mexico to have qualified already but they will come in at second place, needing a tie to qualify but a win to win the group. El Salvador sits in first place and will hope to make their mark by knocking the favorites to win the Gold Cup down a peg as well as get a first place finish that would help them in their future quarterfinal matchup.

Mexico’s Gold Cup participation improved after an awful start. In their opening game, a gruesome injury that finished Hirving Lozano’s participation in the Gold Cup and a bad job from referee Ricardo Montero all combined to have Mexico’s starting the tournament with a 0-0 tie against Trinidad and Tobago. Their second match didn’t start in the best way either, but after a poor first half Mexico improved in the second and got a 3-0 win over Guatemala. Mexico now is expected to go through to the quarterfinals but at four points, anything but a win will give El Salvador the first place finish in Group A. Mexico could expect a defensive display from the Central American side, which has definitely hampered Mexico before as they did against Trinidad. Reports however are saying that El Salvador would not try to do so. If true, it would benefit Mexico greatly as they are the superior side both technically and physically. Mexico could benefit that Guatemala, a side that looks more like El Salvador physically, tried a similar approach and their success lasted about 20 minutes before Mexico took complete control of the match. By the second half, they were completely tired out and Mexico went from simply controlling the match to dominating. El Salvador is a better side than both Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala, although not by much as many of their pundits think.

El Salvador came into the tournament looking to be as the second side of the group but they have gotten better results and are in first place. They had a tough battle against Guatemala where they were the better side and got a 2-0 victory with two late goals. Then they then went on and defeated Trinidad and Tobago by the same score. Although they prevailed where Mexico couldn’t, they also benefited from certain situations. Besides the clear fact that they didn’t have an earth shaking injury, they also had a Trinidad and Tobago team that attacked from the start unlike against Mexico, where they failed to do so all match. While Trinidad and Tobago hit the post and had a couple of opportunities to tie the match, they only threatened Mexico once, off a free kick and the ball went well wide. Trinidad also made the incredible move of subbing out goalkeeper Marvin Phillip, who was marvelous against Mexico, for Nicklas Frenderup for the El Salvador match. Frenderup ended up making a bad mistake that led to El Salvador’s second goal. While results-wise they did better than Mexico in those matches, overall it was very different games with El Salvador’s goalkeeper making various saves while Mexico’s goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera hasn’t had to make a save in 180 minutes against those same teams.

Mexico is heavily favored on Sunday, and anything but a win will be a disaster. This leads to a great test for El Salvador who will come in with few pressure ready to pull the upset. Yet some of the comments from El Salvador that they will come out with an offensive display leads to believe that Mexico might benefit from the wrong strategy. Yet if there is one thing where they are advantage, it is the fact that El Salvador’s coach Hugo Perez worked with the Mexican Federation before quitting to become El Salvador’s U23 coach for the U24 CONCACAF Championship. That job led him to be the head coach for the senior team, and this will have him at an advantage against coach Gerardo Martino that probably isn’t very knowledgeable at all about El Salvador. Yet all the knowledge in the world won’t help if El Salvador tries to take the ball away from Mexico and play them as an equal which will lead to a lot of space, which is the wrong way to approach this match.