Mexico’s streak of seven consecutive Round of 16 games is on the line in Qatar but the odds are stacked heavily against El Tri.
The world’s 13th ranked team faces an early exit from World Cup 2022 as an anemic start has El Tri mired in last place in Group C in desperate need of some goals and some help.
In order to advance to the knockout rounds, coach “Tata” Martino must find some offense and he’ll revert to his favored 4-3-3 formation against Saudi Arabia with Orbelín Pineda inserted as a midfield playmaker. Pineda will be making his World Cup debut.
For El Tri to have any hopes of extending its stay in Qatar, a win is mandatory, but Martino’s boys have gone 384 minutes without a World Cup goal, dating back to the second group-stage game in Russia 2018.
Mexico has its back to the wall; in fact, it’s behind the wall
Mexico has never lost to Saudi Arabia (No. 51 in the FIFA World Rankings), but the last time they squared off was back in 1999, a 5-1 victory in Estadio Azteca in a Confederations Cup match.
Overall, El Tri is 4-1-0 vs the Saudis, winning two other Confederations Cup confrontations (2-0 in January 1995 and 5-0 in December 1997, both times in Riyadh).
The Arabian Falcons will face Mexico without their captain Salman Al-Faraj who suffered a leg injury in Saturday’s game against Poland.
Mexico has no injury issues to report and will open with this starting line-up:
Goalie: Guillermo Ochoa
Defenders: Jesús Gallardo, Héctor Moreno, César Montes and Jorge Sánchez
Midfielders: Edson Álvarez, Luis Chávez and Orbelín Pineda
Forwards: “Chucky” Lozano, Henry Martín and Alexi Vega
What must happen for El Tri to advance
As mentioned above, the first thing is score goals and win the damn game! But that might not be enough.
El Tri (0 points) probably must score 3 or 4 goals against the Saudis (3 points) to have a chance to advance. A 1-0 win would be enough should Poland upset Argentina but this is an unlikely scenario. Then again, who had Saudi Arabia beating world No. 3 Argentina in the first game?
Argentina (3 points) is eager to finish in first place so as to avoid a clash with defending champions France in the Round of 16. “Los Albiceleste” must beat Poland (4 points) to ensure its spot in the knockout round and a big win would secure first place even if Saudi Arabia defeats Mexico.
If the South Americans win, then Mexico must win by enough to overcome its 4-goal deficit to Poland. The Poles are at +2 and El Tri is at –2. So the best bet is to root for Argentina to get its act together and rout Poland by 3 or 4 goals, then a 2-0 Mexico win would do the trick.
Should Argentina and Poland draw, Mexico must win by 4 goals to overcome its 3-goal deficit to Argentina (+1 goal differential).
So here we are. Mexico’s determination to finally reach a fifth game in a World Cup destined to go unrealized because El Tri might not even get to a fourth game in Qatar.