The wait is finally over. With Qatar losing to Ecuador in the World Cup opener yesterday, the most awaited and watched single event in the world is officially under way. As both Group A and Group B complete their Matchday 1 obligations today, Mexico are set to begin their search for their first ever World Cup title tomorrow, when they square off with Poland at 11 am ET / 8 am PT, with two years of turmoil and bad results for the Mexican NT finally culminating with this tournament.
Needless to say, this is the bleekest squad Mexico have taken to a World Cup in at least three decades. A direct result of that of course being nobody expects them to continue their 7-consecutive World Cup Round of 16 appearance streak. Not that they’ve drawn the toughest group rivals in the cup by any means, but more so how poorly the team has performed over the past couple years and the steady decline of results under head coach ‘Tata’ Martino.
Who are Poland?
But enough of the pleasantries. Everyone knows this Poland squad are dangerous and good. But who exactly are they? For starters, they’re ranked 26th in the FIFA world rankings - 13 spots behind Mexico. I know what you’re thinking; how is that even remotely possible? But I digress. They’re led by 52-year old head coach Czesław Michniewicz, a Polish ex-football player and now head coach. He was barely named the NT’s head coach on January 31st of this year due to the previous coach, Paulo Sousa, deciding to sign for Flamengo one month earlier with their qualification playoff matches still in the air.
Michniewicz signed on through the rest of 2022 with an extension option, probably dependant on their WC performance. He’s coached 9 games since being appointed, holding a positive record of 4W, 2D, 3L. However, the most important of those four wins came in just his second match in charge, leading his team to a 2-0 victory over Sweden in the WC qualification playoff match, thanks to two key stops from keeper Szczesny and a key PK conversion from star FC Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski to give them the lead.
They had a tough stretch of results during the UEFA Nations League over the summer, losing 3 out of 4 at one point, but their group rivals were just as tough. And outside of a 6-1 pounding to the hands of Belgium, the rest of their matches under Michniewicz have been extremely close. A 1-0 loss to Belgium, a 2-0 loss and 2-2 draw to Netherlands, and two victories against Wales (2-1, 1-0) summed up their Nations League performance. So they’re no push-over by any means.
In contrast to Mexico, they only played one friendly to finish their WC prep which took place last Wednesday in Warszawa against the ever gritty Chilean NT. Despite failing to make this year’s WC, Chile are no scrubs at all, fielding veteran players such as Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal, and Alexis Sánchez, along with promising youngsters in Diego Valencia and Marcelino Núñez. Poland knew it would be a tough match, and tough is what they got. However, they withstood menacing shot after shot from this potent Chilean squad, and waited for their chance which arrived in the 85th minute off a corner kick, with Piatek capitalizing on a loose ball inside the six-yard box. It was a 1-0 victory for Poland.
Numery, numery, numery... pic.twitter.com/88PT7SwvjR— Łączy nas piłka (@LaczyNasPilka) November 15, 2022
What can we expect from Poland tomorrow?
As ‘Tata’ Martino stated in his presser earlier today, “Poland has versatile players. They always wait and look for the open space. The style we saw against Sweden might be similar tomorrow.” In other words, you can expect a defensive side, just as the Swedes played Mexico in last week’s friendly. They let Mexico “take control” of the match, were patient, and struck when the time was right, burning El Tri badly. Same thing happened with Poland in their Chile friendly.
A good veteran keeper like Szczesny below the goal posts, to go along with Aston Villa’s CB Bednarek, veteran CDM Krychowiak, this defensive-minded squad will take away all sorts of spaces for Mexico’s wingers. They’ll try to burn Mexico with either counters or set pieces and take advantage of their height. Poland are the 8th tallest team on average at the WC, while Mexico are dead last in that category. Let that sink in for a second.
Mexico’s keys to the match
Coincidentally enough, Poland scored their only goal last week on a set piece (corner kick). Sweden scored their second goal against Mexico on a corner as well. Set pieces just happen to be one of Mexico’s biggest weaknesses (if not the biggest), especially with Poland’s average height. That has to be their main focal point. César Montes must be glue on Lewandowski every single corner, free kick, or any cross potential play for that matter. It’s demanding the striker not be given any sort of space. The issue with Montes, however, is he’s slow and can tend to lose his man from time to time. He can be leaky for sure. That’ll be the challenge.
As a quick note, Mexico must be ready for counter attacks. They can’t afford to be left at a disadvantage down below; not when they’re facing players with the quickness of Lewandowski, Milik, Zielinski, Piatek, and these bad boys. They won’t miss if given a chance.
It must be said; Mexico are more likely to lose than not. But it must also be said; Poland aren’t a top-notch European squad by any means. They’re clearly a step or two below the elites. A draw would be considered a win in this one. If Mexico can avoid making mistakes on the ball (like Guardado’s last week resulting in Sweden’s first goal), and cover on set pieces correctly, they might just escape with a scoreless tie. Unfortunately, I don’t see Mexico having enough firepower up front to score on this tough defensive group. I’m going optimistic tomorrow: 0-0. This result would drastically increase Mexico’s shot at making it through the group stage.