Group C: Ochoa plays the hero as El Tri draws Poland 0-0

El Tri winger "Chucky" Lozano battled Polish defenders throughout the Group C in the World Cup opener for both teams. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
El Tri winger "Chucky" Lozano battled Polish defenders throughout the Group C in the World Cup opener for both teams. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images) /
El Tri Ochoa Poland
Guillermo Ochoa saves Robert Lewandowski’s second-half penalty kick to preserve his shutout as El Tri and Poland played to a scoreless draw in a Group C match Tuesday. (Photo by Khalil Bashar/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

A glance at the Mexico-Poland stats page would suggest that El Tri had a rather decent game.

The Concacaf side enjoyed 61 percent possession, outshot the Poles 11-6 and hit the target more (4 to 2) while also displaying better passing accuracy (83 percent of 487 passes completed for El Tri compared to 72 percent of 322 passes for the Europeans).

El Tri skipper Memo Ochoa even stopped a Robert Lewandowski penalty shot.

Not bad, right? Now if only Mexico had scored …

El Tri and Poland split the points

Mexico battled a physical Poland side to a stalemate primarily because El Tri was rather ineffective in the final third.

Gerardo Martino’s men rarely got good looks at goal and the taller Poles efficiently cut off centering passes and crosses. And Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny was there to gather balls that floated into the box.

In all, Szczesny was tested only twice: a sharply angled Jorge Sánchez blast that he adroitly palmed over the bar in the first half and a long-distance Edson Álvarez shot that took a slight deflection off the head of Henry Martín requiring a reflex parry.

Mexico’s scoring woes are nothing new. Four years ago, El Tri emerged from the group stage after scoring just 3 goals and was then blanked in the Round of 16 by Brazil. And during the Concacaf qualifying campaign, Mexico managed just 17 goals in 14 contests.

The challenge on Tuesday was made more difficult by Poland’s willingness to sit back in twin lines of four and choke off moves into the box. Mexico might have been better served by moving the ball quickly side-to-side, trying to create seams in the defensive wall constructed by the Poles.

It’s not that El Tri was impatient – the build-up play was persuasive, if occasionally too deliberate – but rather a lack of creativity in attack.

Quicker passing across the top might have also provided opportunities for long-distance shots which could have softened up the Poland defense. Luis Chávez and Héctor Herrera surely had the green light to do so, but that option was not taken.

“Chucky” Lozano caused some trouble out wide and Alexis Vega did so to a lesser degree on the opposite flank. Several times, Lozano cut into the middle but rarely found an open teammate inside.

Sloppy passing a bugaboo

Carelessness with the ball nearly cost Mexico the match and the main culprit was a surprise.

Right back Sánchez turned the ball over a bit too often, once as the defense was moving up out of its zone and Herrera showed his rust (61 minutes of action since Aug. 21 before Tuesday), spraying the ball on occasion.

But it was midfield linchpin Edson Álvarez who might have been the goat if not for Ochoa’s heroics. Twice the Ajax man made terrible passes that led directly to Poland opportunities. In minute 53, Álvarez coughed it up in his own half and suddenly Lewandowski was racing into the box with Héctor Moreno desperately trying to muscle him off the ball. The pair fell to the ground in a heap as Jesús Gallardo cleared up the mess and play continued upfield.

At the next stoppage, VAR invited ref Chris Beath to look at the replay and he pointed to the spot, deciding that Moreno had too big a handful of Lewandowski’s jersey. It was a harsh call as both players were wrestling for position.

Ochoa saved the day however, taking a jab step to his right as Lewandowski approached the ball then diving to his left. The Mexico captain guessed right and he blocked the penalty shot, erasing Poland’s one and only clear scoring chance.

Group C is upside down

A look at the standings shows Argentina in last place with 0 points and Saudi Arabia on top with 3. Mexico and Poland are in the middle with 1 point each.

The next group games – on Saturday – see Argentina against Mexico with the Saudis trying to clinch a spot in the Round of 16 against Poland.

The final Group C matches are on Nov. 30 with Argentina facing Poland and El Tri squaring off with Saudi Arabia.

Mexico’s stars of the game

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Another look at Ochoa’s save on the Lewandowski penalty kick. (Photo by Anthony Stanley ATPImages/Getty Images) /

Ochoa was declared Man of the Match and deservedly so. In addition to his penalty save, the skipper made a fine positional save in minute 90+4 off a Jakub Kaminski effort.

Chávez was a constant presence in midfield, moving the ball swiftly and efficiently. He also topped all players with 21 line-breaking passes.

Lozano gets the third star thanks to his game-long hustle. The Napoli man attacked with verve and also chased back to help on defense, producing a few turnovers in the process.

Next. El Tri aiming for 8th straight Round of 16 appearance. dark

Defender César Montes earns honorable mention for his poise and positioning in the back line. His passing out of the back was not as noteworthy as we’ve come to expect but he and Moreno kept close tabs on Lewandowski and that is no easy task.