If anyone doubted Martino’s choice regarding who should be under goal, they were just proven wrong today. Ten minutes into the second half, keeper and team captain ‘Memo’ Ochoa stopped a game-deciding PK from FC Barcelona star Robert Lewandowski to keep Poland off the board and give Mexico its first point of the 2022 World Cup in a match where Mexico were widely expected to lose. The result comes as the second surprise of Group C following Argentina’s loss to Saudi Arabia earlier today.
Mexico not only competed with their European rivals, but looked better during different passages of the match. Their backline were essentially flawless today, apart from Héctor Moreno’s mental mishap when he tackled Lewandowski inside the box. But Poland’s attackers were rarely given space when they did decide to attack, and in the end, only managed 6 total shots (2 on target).
As expected, Poland retreated and waited on Mexico for much of the first half, looking to create danger on counters and set pieces, but they rarely did. Mexico were disciplined and got back in a hurry whenever they lost the ball. It seemed that would eventually cost El Tri fitness-wise, as they’d clearly exerted a big effort going back and forth up the pitch, and Poland clearly have the players to make a forward push and try to make something happen offensively if they so choose. It didn’t.
We got some vintage Héctor Herrera, as he was always well positioned, stole possession from Poland, and spread the ball around well. Edson Álvarez didn’t make any costly mistakes as he normally does. Luis Chávez sprung forward and helped support the attack without disregarding his interior defensive duties. In short, defensively speaking, it’s arguably the soundest game Mexico have performed under ‘Tata’ Martino.
Offensively however, that’s a whole ‘nother story. As predicted, Mexico are missing that umph in the final third to help them put games away and earn them three points. ‘Chucky’ Lozano was stupendous, creating multiple plays down Poland’s left flank, but there was no one there to put his crosses away. Alexis Vega got involved at times, tried a shot toward the end that was way off, and just couldn’t manage to be as effective as Lozano.
Henry Martin was the biggest disappointment of the day. He didn’t participate as much as you’d have wanted and failed to get open for one of his teammates to find him with a cross. To put it plainly, he got bottled up by Poland’s defense. His only real intervention of danger was on a backwards header he deflected off an Edson Álvarez pass, but wasn’t enough to throw off Szczesny and get past him. He was ultimately subbed off in the 71st minute in favor of Raúl Jiménez, who still walks and runs a little funny. He just doesn’t look fully healed, confident, or right on the pitch for that matter yet.
I would’ve liked to see Rogelio Funes Mori up top. His height definitely gave him the X-factor over Martin in this one and he could’ve made a difference, especially considering Mexico’s gameplan was centered around the wingers searching for the striker through driving and crossing in the ball, which happens to be Funes Mori’s specialty. Not that it would’ve changed anything for certain, but at least seeing him come on for Martin for the last 20-25 minutes would’ve been interesting to say the least.
If Mexico’s defense continues to clean up like they did today, that will keep them in the games and potentially help them move on from the group stage. But the lingering issue will continue to be the offense for the remainder of the cup, as Mexico have lacked a true and consistent goalscorer since Oribe Peralta’s departure.
In case you still had any doubt, today’s man of the match was Mexico’s captain, 37-year old Guillermo Ochoa. He continues to come up big time and time again for the Mexican NT, especially in World Cups. Despite his flaws (the biggest of all his inability of timing and attacking crosses effectively), he’s managed to be the heroe for this squad on multiple occasions throughout his career.
In the end, it’s a scoreless draw that, let’s face it, is more a win for Mexico, considering the talent differential between the two squads as well as the current moment they’re going through, as Mexico have been on a downward spiral for the past couple of years. With Saudi Arabia in firm control of Group C with 3 points, Mexico are tied with Poland for 2nd with a point apiece. Last are Argentina with 0 points. Speaking of which, up next for Mexico: Messi and company.