Two quick goals to start the second half ignited the hope of millions of Mexicans who had already discounted their team from the 2022 World Cup. A poacher goal by Henry Martin in the 47th minute followed by a wonder free kick strike by Luis Chávez just five minutes later had the entire country suddenly convinced they could do the unthinkable and meet France in the Round of 16 with just one more goal needed to clinch said spot.
It was a breath of fresh air after two nearly unwatchable offensive performances and a first half today filled with inaccuracy, bad execution, and overall bad decisions with the ball. A common trend to say the least from this Mexican side. But that start to the second 45 minutes filled fans, players, and Martino himself with one last energy hit to go for it all in the time remaining. I seriously can’t remember seeing Martino fired up like he was after the second goal. It was great to see, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, it didn’t go Mexico’s way.
Mexico owned this match from the start. Now yes, we expected the Saudis to sit back and wait for El Tri to attack, but never in this dominating fashion. Luis Chávez played the best game of his career, being on point with passes, driving the ball down the middle himself, and with quality long distance attempts on goal. What a performance. In the first half, Mexico threatened with endless crosses and play buildups from the flanks, and looked spectacular in all of it leading up to that final touch / shot / decision with the ball, and that’s where their plays fell apart. They just couldn’t seem to get good enough contact to really test keeper Al-Owais.
But for the first ten minutes of the second half, it was all the contrary. The two goals came in what seemed like a heartbeat, followed by a third, only to be disallowed due to a slight inclination in Henry Martin’s body, barely placing him offside. Truly a game of inches. That Lozano goal would’ve momentarily placed Mexico ahead of Poland for 2nd in the group. It would’ve changed EVERYTHING. Instead, Mexico were still searching for a goal.
I liked the fact Lozano remained heavily involved in play creation throughout and looked extremely menacing. Martin was also a positive from today despite him having the clearest chance to score Mexico’s third in the 70th minute, when he was left alone in the box off a backward header just to the left of the penalty spot, and mistimed his attempt, sending it high over the crossbar. If he aims that toward goal, it’s in. The keeper would’ve had no chance to react, no matter where he put it.
Alexis Vega could’ve done more with a chance in the first half and looked somewhat disconnected in the match for some reason. Almost as if he wasn’t on the same page as everyone else, and was subbed off at the half in favor of Antuna, who looked just as bad. Meanwhile, Orbelín Pineda looked a little rusty from all his time spent riding the bench in recent weeks, but still managed to make an impact. He also missed a good look from just outside the penalty area, with a shot on the ground that went just wide. You’ve gotta be able to put those on target at the very least.
In the end, Mexico had 61% ball possession, 26 total shots, only 11 of which were on target, and won 8 corners in the match. Saudi Arabia had 10 attempts, but only 2 on goal. Just goes to show how little Mexico were able to reflect their overwhelming dominance on the scoreboard.
I have to tip my hat to the backline, who stopped nearly every Saudi counter attempt there was. Sliding tackles, well-timed steals and close outs. Renard’s side weren’t allowed to play their game, unlike they did in the previous two matches. Tough to play a match as near perfect as Mexico’s backline and DMs did today. They made the Saudis look harmless.
I didn’t understand Martino’s 77th minute move, pulling Henry Martin for Raúl Jiménez. Why not Funes Mori? Mexico were full on attacking, sending in crosses, and the game just seemed perfectly suited for Funes Mori, who capitalizes massively on that style of play. He’s a natural goal scorer and thrives in those situations when he is constantly fed the ball near or insdie the area. Jiménez, as expected, was unable to make any imprint (again), and the Rayados’ striker was finally brought on in the 86th minute with little time to prove himself. Oh well.
With the Poland-Argentina match ending a good ten minutes prior to Mexico’s, El Tri knew they needed one more goal and could even give themselves the luxury of allowing the Saudis to score once and not changing anything. For some reason, many didn’t know this, including announcers and even Mexico players, as it appeared ‘Tata’ signalled to them they still had to go for just one. How that wasn’t communicated prior is unjustifiable. Mexico failed to approach Al-Owais’s goal with any sort of danger in the final 15 minutes of action, as they were obviously fatigued from their tremendous effort and sacrifice.
With both group matches gone final, Argentina finished 1st (as expected) with 6 points and will face Australia in the Round of 16. Meanwhile, Poland locked up that two spot (as expected), and now face the daunting task of going up against the current world champs and ever challenging France, in a match where the Polish will be massive underdogs.
So, it’s the end of the road for Mexico in the 2022 World Cup. And what a short ride it was, as El Tri’s 7-consecutive Round of 16 appearances has also come to an end. ‘Tata’ Martino looks to have coached his last game for Mexico and there are many broken pieces left to be picked up. Who will be the next head coach? What players will make up the 2026 World Cup squad? Will they be any better than this team? On and on.
And while it’s sad they’ve been eliminated, maybe this is the wake-up call the FMF needed, as big change is required if they are to right this ship. Will Yon de Luisa do what is required? Will they find a way to give Mexican players a better opportunity in Liga MX, the way they used to back in the 2000s and prior? This could be the defining moment for one of two things: 1) the start of a decline and dark age in Mexican soccer; 2) the beginning of a new process and with it, out with the bad practices that have led to this point. Hopefully it’s the latter, but only time will tell, as we stand 43 months out.