World Cup Group C: El Tri faces Argentina in battle for survival

Hirving "Chucky" Lozano might have to produce a goal if El Tri has hopes of remaining in Qatar through next week. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Hirving "Chucky" Lozano might have to produce a goal if El Tri has hopes of remaining in Qatar through next week. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images) /
El Tri Argentina
Left to right: Héctor Herrera, Chucky Lozano and Guillermo Ochoa stroll off the field after a training session at Al Khor SC in Al Khor, north of Doha. El Tri plays Argentina on Saturday. (Photo by ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images) /

This is not the way it was supposed to be.

The plan was to aim high and battle Argentina for top spot in World Cup Group C and then see about finding a way to advance to that elusive fifth game.

Instead, El Tri and Argentina will square off Saturday with the loser facing an early trip back home. The South Americans – ranked No. 3 in the FIFA World Rankings – were stunned by Saudi Arabia in their group opener while El Tri battled Poland to a scoreless draw, further accentuating Mexico’s offensive limitations.

Suddenly, the much-anticipated battle for group supremacy is an encounter between two teams desperate to avoid national calamity.

El Tri must reprise 2004 magic

Mexico has had little success against Argentina, wining just five times in 35 previous encounters.

The teams have met three times in the World Cup with El Tri coming up short all three times:

  1. Uruguay 1930, group stage: Argentina spanked Mexico 6-3
  2. Germany 2006, Round of 16: A Maxi Rodríguez golazo in overtime knocked El Tri out of the tournament
  3. South Africa 2010, Round of 16: A Carlos Tévez brace led La Albiceleste to an easy 3-1 triumph

In five other official games (the 2005 Confederations Cup semifinal and four Copa América contests), Mexico has a 1-2-2 record, the lone victory coming in Chiclayo, Peru, in a Copa América group stage match thanks to a spectacular Ramón Morales free kick in minute 9.

That’s not much to hang your hat on, but it’s “put up or shut-up” time so it will be interesting to see what coach Gerardo Martino comes up with in Lusail, Qatar.

Unfortunately for cynical El Tri fans, “Tata” has not proven to be a risk-taker, preferring to stick with veterans whether they are underperforming or not.

Will he stick with fullbacks Jorge Sánchez and Jesús Gallardo despite unconvincing showings against Poland? Will he sideline out-of-form Héctor Herrera for a flashier midfield presence such as Carlos Rodríguez?

More of the same from ‘Tata’

For the Mexico faithful hoping for an aggressive, hopeful move from the embattled coach, it’s time to slump and groan.

According to sports daily “Record,” El Tri will go conservative in their do-or-die match against Argentina.

Mexico is expected to open in a 5-3-2 formation, with Herrera, 32, and Andrés Guardado, 36, anchoring the midfield, just like they did in 2014 and 2018. At least Luis Chávez, 26 – the best field player for El Tri against Poland – will be alongside them.

At the back, Gallardo remains at left fullback with Héctor Moreno, 34, Néstor Araujo, 31, teaming up with young stud César Montes in the middle of defense. Yes … sigh … but at least, Sánchez is on the bench and the precocious Kevin Álvarez will be given the start at right back.

Up front Hirving Lozano and Alexis Vega will be leading the attack.

So, maybe this time, “Tata” will be more proactive with his in-game adjustments. But we won’t hold our breath since that is another perceived shortcoming for the coach whose tenure with El Tri will end in Qatar.

Against Poland, Mexico only used three substitutes and none before minute 71. With playmakers including Orbelín Pineda and Charlie Rodríguez eager to contribute, and the in-form Erick Gutiérrez available, there is no excuse for sticking with what’s not working should Argentina gain an advantage.

Permutations and possibilities

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that all might not be lost should Mexico fall to Argentina (he writes with false confidence). Of course the Poland-Saudi Arabia result will weigh heavily in these calculations and that game will be over before kickoff in Lusail Stadium.

If Poland wins, El Tri could lose and still have a shot by defeating Saudi Arabia on Matchday 3 while Argentina routs Poland that same day.

If Poland-Saudi Arabia ends in a tie, Mexico would be all but eliminated with a loss Saturday. El Tri would need Argentina to crush Poland next Wednesday while it defeats Saudi Arabia.

If El Tri escapes with a draw against Argentina, they must defeat Saudi Arabia and hope for a Poland-Argentina tie or a Poland loss.

And if Mexico somehow upsets Messi & Co., they truly control their own destiny.

Next. It’s time for ‘Tata,’ El Tri to state their case. dark

Spinning its wheels

Since finishing World Cup qualifying in March, El Tri is a mediocre 4-4-4 (including Tuesday’s scoreless draw against Poland). In those 12 matches, Mexico has scored just 14 goals while conceding 11.