‘Tata’ Martino, El Tri have one single mantra – Qatar 2022 or bust

Mexico lost to Team USA in the Nations League and the Gold Cup this summer, putting pressure on coach "Tata" Martino heading into the World Cup qualifiers.(Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)
Mexico lost to Team USA in the Nations League and the Gold Cup this summer, putting pressure on coach "Tata" Martino heading into the World Cup qualifiers.(Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /
El Tri - Qatar or bust
Raúl Jiménez finally returned to action this month after suffering a fractured skull in November. His return to El Tri will have to wait at least another month. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

El Tri begins its quest for Qatar 2022 qualification with plenty of questions … and critics are poised to leap at the first misstep.

Coach Gerardo Martino is under pressure to stroll through the 14-game gauntlet and grab one of the three automatic berths awarded to Concacaf. Further, Mexico must finish first or second for “Tata” to keep his job.

The first three matches – Sept. 2 vs Jamaica, Sept. 5 at Costa Rica, Sept. 8 at Panama – pose unexpected challenges thanks to European clubs refusing to release international players for the FIFA break.

With the opener at Estadio Azteca only two days away, Martino is wrestling with the notion that striker Raúl Jiménez (Wolverhampton, English Premier League) will not be made available. Starting winger Jesús Corona (Porto, Portuguese Primeira Liga) is also a no-show at the El Tri camp.

El Tri leans on Olympians

After a disastrous summer that featured two losses to Team USA – including to a second-choice U.S. side in the Gold Cup – Martino and El Tri must ignore the nay-sayers and ignore the outside noise.

Although FIFA has warned European leagues of consequences for preventing international players from heading home for World Cup qualifiers, El Tri has already brought in Cruz Azul forward Santi Giménez to fill Jiménez’s slot. A decision on Corona is still pending.

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Unlike this summer, Martino had a full slate of players to choose from and his original squad selection featured 11 bronze-medal winners until Genoa defender Johan Vásquez pulled out due to an injury. “Tata” filled out the El Tri roster with just 11 field players who took part in the Concacaf Gold Cup, an admission several players disappointed.

One of those left off the initial World Cup roster was Tigres defender Carlos Salcedo. In past columns, I’ve called him a disaster waiting to happen and questioned his inclusion and railed against his frequent opportunities to start.

It appears that Martino finally came to the same conclusion, and some pundits hint that it is more than just poor performance. Salcedo has exhibited poor discipline in games (poor fouls and excessive dissent even after obvious fouls, as well as sloppy giveaways), but reports suggest his attitude and comportment in training has been an issue.

Perhaps confirming the problem, when Vásquez backed out, “Tata” selected Cruz Azul defender Julio César Domínguez to replace him, not Salcedo. Domínguez, 33, has not donned an El Tri jersey since 2015.

Another player who has apparently crossed the line with “Tata” is forward J.J. Macías, now with La Liga’s Getafe. The 21-year-old striker was not considered even though El Tri is desperate for a No. 9, especially with Jiménez out of the picture for now.

The former Chivas star is in hot water because he backed out of the Olympics feigning an injury only to appear in Spain less than a week later to sign with Getafe.

Word out of the Chivas camp was that Macías had been distracted and incommunicative for months, brooding over his inability to finalize a long-sought move to Europe. The striker’s production had plummeted in the three seasons since returning from a loan deal to León.

By putting himself before the team, Macías appears to have placed himself in Martino’s dog house alongside Javier Hernández, the all-time leading scorer for El Tri who has been black-balled since 2019.

Finally, El Tri will be without flashy winger Chucky Lozano who only just returned to Napoli’s line-up after suffering a horrific injury while playing for Mexico in the Gold Cup.

Next. ‘Tata’ must make bold decisions. dark

In our next piece, we will focus on players who will be playing for Mexico, with particular attention paid to the members of El Tri Olímpico.