It’s true Argentina lost their WC opener early Tuesday against Saudi Arabia. It’s also true they dominated the entirety of the match and should’ve put up around four or five goals on the Saudis, which is what everyone expected to occur. It came down to a matter of finishing plays, something that whether due to offsides called or bad finishing simply didn’t happen.
But if you look at that match objectively, without discreting Saudi Arabia in any way, Argentina deserved to win, and it’s not even close. Period. 15 total shots (6 on target) to Saudi Arabia’s 3 (2 on target), 70% ball possession, more than doubling the total amount of passes completed, 9 corners to the Saudi’s 2; I can go on and on.
Who are Argentina?
Following Argentina’s disappointing exit from the 2018 WC in Russia, Lionel Scaloni was named caretaker manager. In November of 2018, he was confirmed permanently in the position. During his tenure, he led Argentina to a 3rd place finish in the 2019 Copa América and to the title in the 2021 edition, defeating Brazil in the final. Not to mention, took a 36-match unbeaten run into the World Cup which ended on Tuesday.
Despite FIFA world rankings not meaning much, Argentina aren’t 3rd overall by luck. They hadn’t lost a match since 2019 (36 unbeaten) until Tuesday. They’re filled with elite talent in every line and position. Their quickness on and off the ball is mesmerizing. Owning a tough and elite defensive line, along with the ability to blitz you on the flanks through Di María and Papu Gómez, or burn you with quick passes down the middle with Paredes and of course Messi, as well as the elite finishing skills of both Messi and Lautaro makes this team a favorite against anyone, as well as one of the main favorites to win the World Cup.
Add to that the fact they’re coming off a brutal, unexpected loss where they were widely favored to win. This team will come out tomorrow with a vengeance, and unfortunately, it’s Mexico who will be standing on the receiving side of that. And while I partly agree with ‘Tata’ Martino’s take on their loss not changing their overall intensity and style for tomorrow, I know for a fact they will come out with extra precaution, defenders will be on their best behavior, and they’re as hungry for a victory as ever after their WC hopes have taken a significant hit. Much hungrier than if they’d started with a win; you can take that one to the bank.
What to expect from Argentina?
Aside from the aforementioned, including the fact they’re faster in practically every position other than maybe ‘Chucky’ Lozano’s, and the fact they will have their chances to score, taking into account Mexico’s leaky defense, the main thing to know about Argentina is they know about Mexico’s main weakness: coming out with the ball under control. Scaloni and company have historically high-pressed Mexico, deriving in countless turnovers and created opportunities to score for Argentina.
Mexico’s keys to the match
In other words, Mexico’s backline and inside midfielders must be extremely careful when handling the ball in their own third and not be afraid to clear it the moment spaces close up and they have nowhere else to go with it, because otherwise, as Edson Álvarez has clearly illustrated for us in the past with unforced errors, it will be a thrashing by the South Americans.
The other key forces me to go back and look at the Saudi Arabia match. They nullified Argentina in the second half because they had a midfielder specifically designed to spy on Messi, so that as soon as he dribbled past his first marker, the spy was there immediately to close him out. It took Messi out of the game mentally and stopped Argentina from its overwhelming play creation it had in the first half. Now, this is obviously much easier said than done, but if Mexico don’t do this, it’ll be a party for La Albiceleste, as the entirety of their offense clearly depends on La Pulga. Mexico do this and their chances of getting a positive result will increase drastically.
No matter how positive or optimistic I try to be, I can’t see Mexico winning in any scenario. I believe there will be extra motivation from obtaining the scoreless draw against Poland, but Argentina’s offense is a whole other monster. Argentina take it 2-0, forcing Mexico to beat Saudi Arabia in the final match in order to move on.