In all fairness to the title, it isn’t directly a ‘win or go home’ situation. There are various scenarios where even if Mexico did win, they’d still go home. But the issue is they have to win to even have a chance at all. If Mexico come away with any result that isn’t a victory, they’re officially eliminated from the World Cup.
Tomorrow at 2 pm ET / 11 am PT, Mexico will go toe to toe with Saudi Arabia in their group closeout match. Mexico aren’t the only desperate team however; the Saudis are also hungry for points, sitting 3rd in the group, on the outside looking in with 3 points, 1 behind group leader Poland and behind Argentina on goal difference.
Who are Saudi Arabia?
Ranked 51st in the world by FIFA (1 spot behind Qatar, 6th overall in Asia Confederation), they’re managed by French head coach Hervé Renard since July 2019. It’s the 5th National Team managed by Renard (6th stint; coached Zambia twice). Under him, Saudi Arabia had an exceptional World Cup qualifiers performance, cruising in their second round group and winning their third round group over teams like Japan and Australia to qualify for the WC directly.
In their two World Cup games, #10 Salem Al-Dawsari has proven to be the offensive leader and most skilled player. Despite most rest of the squad lacking generational talent, they’re not afraid to come at you and have shown the ability to do so effectively and efficiently, scoring twice on Argentina and missing a PK against Poland. They’re also a speedy bunch, that much is for sure. They’ve clearly prioritized defending and have attacked when the opportunity presents itself, mostly on counters, but can do so with danger, so definitely something to look out for if you’re Mexico.
What to expect from Saudi Arabia?
Renard should be well aware of Mexico’s lack of speed on defense. Therefore, I see no reason why he would change his tactical alignment. I expect a similar stance as the Poland match, with the Saudis sitting back and waiting for Mexico, looking to burn them on counters with their speed and betting on Al-Dawsari to create, given he’ll have space with Mexico searching for goals. After all, a simple win secures a spot in the knockout phase for Saudi Arabia, no matter what happens in the other match.
I expect Mexico to search for at least a couple goals tomorrow, especially knowing it’s more than likely they’ll be needed in order to move on from the group stage. A simple 1-goal difference win probably won’t be enough, unless Poland defeat Argentina, which is the least likely result.
Mexico’s keys to the match
Mexico’s first and main key is, just like in the Poland match, watch out for counters. This speedy Saudi Arabia unit will be looking to take advantage of precisely their speed advantage, so Mexico must ensure never to be left in 1-on-1 situations / matchups with the Saudis’ dangerous attackers. Hand in hand with this comes no turnovers when Mexico defenders have the ball. If they lose the ball on the backline, that’s an automatic 1-on-1, so it’s preferrable they clear it rather than risk it.
In terms of the second key, Al-Dawsari must be afforded no space. Contrary to Argentina, Saudi Arabia aren’t loaded with talent at the wings and striker positions. But if there’s one guy you make sure doesn’t beat you, it’s Al-Dawsari. Mexico must force anybody else other than #10 to make something happen, considering they probably will have the space to at a certain point with Mexico going forward.
Scenarios for Mexico
Despite being highlt unlikely, here’s a small exercise of what Mexico need in order to move on to the knockout phase, depending on the Poland-Argentina result:
- Poland win by any score: Mexico need to win by any score (would top Argentina by 1 point).
- Poland 0-0 Argentina: Mexico need to win either 4-0 or 4-1 (would top Argentina on GD).
- Poland 1-1 Argentina (or 2-2, 3-3, etc): Mexico need to win 4-0 (would top Argentina on GD).
- Poland 0-1 Argentina: Mexico need to win by 3 goals (would top Poland on GD).
- Poland 0-2 Argentina: Mexico need to win by 2 goals (from 3-1 on), except 2-0 to avoid tiebreaker which favors Poland (tiebreaker is Fair Play; Mexico have 6 yellow cards, Poland have 4).
- Poland 1-2 Argentina: Mexico need to win 4-0 or by 3 goals (from 4-1 on), except 3-0 to avoid tiebreaker.
- Poland 0-3 Argentina: Mexico need to win by any score other than 1-0 (eliminated) or 2-1 (tiebreaker).
- Poland 1-3 Argentina: Mexico need to win 3-0 or by 2 goals (from 4-2 on); 2-0 (eliminated), 3-1 (tiebreaker).
- Poland 2-3 Argentina: Mexico need to win 4-0; a 4-1 win leads to the tiebreaker.
- Poland 0-4 Argentina: Mexico need to win by any score.
*If Mexico win by 4 goals, they move on no matter the Poland-Argentina score.
Mexico have struggled so much on offense that it’s hard to envision them scoring a goal tomorrow, even against Saudi Arabia. Still, I believe the drive of Lozano and company will help them find the back of the net a couple times, as these do or die matches bring out a different animal in players, and that changes outcomes / situations in matches, especially in comparison to regular ones. But it won’t come without conceding one, however, as this quality Saudi bunch can be a handful. There’s just not enough on this Mexico roster to expect more. El Tri win 2-1 and hope a miracle occurs between Poland and Argentina.