El Tri came up short against Sweden in its final World Cup tune-up match but coach Gerardo Martino can take quite a few positives from the game. Of course, the failure to finish opportunities and create more danger in the final third remains a concern.
The 2-1 loss to the Swedes could turn out to be valuable if the team takes some lessons from the setback, most importantly that you cannot turn the ball over in your own half. Still, what’s especially disappointing is that it was veteran Andrés Guardado who made that potential teaching moment possible.
Early in the second half, El Tri captain Guardado got careless with the ball as he carried it out of Mexico’s defensive third. His pass was deflected and Sweden quickly attacked on the counter, catching the defense out of position.
Just like that and completely against the run of play, the ball was in the back of the net and El Tri was trailing in a game it had been dominating.
Lax marking on a corner kick hurts El Tri
Another lesson “Tata” can teach is don’t take needless fouls.
Mexico tied it up on the hour mark and was still enjoying the greater possession (64 percent possession and 90% pass accuracy on the game for El Tri, solid stats to be sure) when Alexis Vega – the goal-scorer – chased down Emil Holm on the right flank then clipped his heel to earn a yellow card.
The free kick resulted in a corner kick on which defender Néstor Araujo let his man shake free. The ball skipped to the back side where Mattias Svanberg gathered it in and calmly slotted home diagonally through a crowd, beating Guillermo Ochoa inside his left post.
Araujo is not a starter for “Tata” but the veteran defenseman might be counted on to supply some minutes in Qatar and he can’t get beaten on set pieces like that. But Vega should also be admonished for his rash foul that led to the sequence.
Making bids for minutes
Midfielder Luis Chávez and Vega were among the four field players to put in a full 90 minutes. While Vega is expected to start at left wing in the absence of injured Jesús Corona, Chávez made a strong case for game time in Qatar. The Pachuca man showed great instincts, demonstrated tremendous passing skills and was tactically sound throughout.
Another midfielder, Héctor Herrera appeared woefully out of sorts during his 62 minutes on thr field. His passing was erratic and his reaction time was slow (not surprising, considering he’s seen just 66 minutes of game time since mid-August) but it was his seeing-eye through ball that sprang Vega into the clear for Mexico’s goal.
“Tata” now has a difficult decision for his midfield. Defensive midfielder Edson Álvarez has been in fine form with Ajax, Erick Gutiérrez has been a stud with PSV Eindhoven and attacking midfielder Charlie Rodríguez is a Martino favorite. Now that Chávez has thrown his hat in the ring, “Tata” has some flexibility depending on how he wants his midfield to operate.
Up front, first-choice striker Raúl Jiménez showed quite a bit of rust in his first appearance on a soccer pitch since Aug. 31. It seems clear that El Tri would be better served by a more seasoned attacker on the front line.
Martino might see Jiménez providing some energy off the bench in Qatar, but the decision to include Jiménez on the roster seems more and more like an unwise and unnecessary gamble. El Tri would have been better served with the young legs of Santiago Giménez.
Instead, Henry Martín might be forced to carry the hopes of El Tri fans at the World Cup, unless Rogelio Funes Mori miraculously recaptures his pre-pandemic form. Meanwhile, Giménez will be back home watching the World Cup on TV.
Finally, Martino did not rotate his fullbacks, allowing Jesús Gallardo (left back) and Jorge Sánchez (right back) to play the full 90 minutes, leaving Gerardo Arteaga (left) and Kevin Álvarez (right) on the bench. Neither Gallardo nor Sánchez distinguished themselves though they did not make any critical errors either.
Goalie Guillermo Ochoa had a sub-par game, failing to make a single save (both of Sweden’s shots on goal got past him) and looking less-than-comfortable with the ball at his feet. Still, there is no doubt that “Memo” will be between the pipes for El Tri.