El Tri: Whadda ya gonna do for an encore, Rogelio?

Rogelio Funes Mori exults after scoring for Mexico against Nigeria. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Rogelio Funes Mori exults after scoring for Mexico against Nigeria. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
El Tri v Nigeria, Funes Mori
Rogelio Funes Mori (top) celebrates with Hector Herrera (#16) and “Tecatito” Corona (left) after Herrera scored to make it 3-0 Mexico. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

Rogelio Funes Mori celebrated his naturalization in style, scoring just 3½ minutes into his first game for El Tri since becoming a Mexican citizen last month.

The Monterrey striker equalized the feat of another naturalized forward, Guille Franco, who also scored in his debut with El Tri. Ironically, Guille – also an Argentine – was a Rayado, too.

Coach Gerardo Martino and his assistants exulted at Funes Mori’s clinical volley, not only because it put Mexico up 2-0 (in its friendly against Nigeria), but also because it should go a long way in reducing the noise begin generated outside the squad by those decrying the use of a naturalized player on the national team.

Funes Mori did more than just score. He fulfilled his role impeccably, worked seamlessly with his line mates, and contributed a “hockey assist.” The lanky forward touched the ball 19 times in 67 minutes of action, losing possession only once, and he had a direct hand in Mexico’s third goal.

El Tri hoping to avoid controversy

Some fans of Mexico’s national team simply can’t abide by the use of naturalized players, regardless of the circumstances. And some believe “Tata” Martino – as a fellow Argentine –conspired to push Funes Mori into Mexican citizenship.

But the simple fact is, El Tri has been in dire need of a No. 9 to replace the injured Raúl Jiménez (who just now is returning to training with Wolverhampton after suffering a fractured skull in November).

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“Tata” tried a few other center forwards, but none proved adequate. Martino was forced to use players out of position and El Tri was in danger of regressing after showing such promise in 2019 and early 2020.

But what about Javier Hernández, cried a loud contingent of jingoists. The 33-year-old is Mexico’s all-time leading scorer, but his career was on a downward trajectory before he moved to MLS last year. This season, “Chicharito” is experiencing a career revival, but a series of transgressions when last with El Tri back in 2019 have effectively made him persona non grata with “Tata.”

As such, Funes Mori’s performance Saturday and the way his teammates – his new countrymen – have embraced him since he arrived at training camp, will help El Tri undertake the defense of its Gold Cup title with fewer distractions.

Chasing No. 12 … and No. 9

Defending champion Mexico is the odds-on favorite to take home the silverware for Concacaf’s top national teams tournament, especially as Team USA is sending a second-choice line-up. If El Tri wins the title, it will be their 12th regional championship and 9th Gold Cup trophy.

Concacaf hosted the Campeonato de Naciones from 1963 through 1989 before adapting the format and creating the Gold Cup in 1991. El Tri won three Campeonatos (1965, 1971 and 1977) and has won eight Gold Cups, including the previous tournament back in 2019 (a 1-0 victory over Team USA).

Mexico finds itself in Group A alongside El Salvador, Curacao and the winner of Tuesday’s Trinidad & Tobago-French Guiana match. Martino and the team area already in Dallas as all three of their group games will be played in the Metroplex (two at the Cotton Bowl and one at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium in Arlington).

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El Tri is heavily favored to emerge from Group A as the leader which would set up a date against the runner up in Group D, comprised of Honduras, Panama, Grenada and Qatar.