Entering the World Cup, there were many questions about the Mexican national team. How good was the squad, really? Was its coach making the right calls? Was this all going to end in bitter disappointment again? Two games into the tournament and the answer feels clear.
After a 2-0 loss to Argentina on Saturday night, Mexico sits in last place in its four-team group. Its streak of advancing to the knockout stage in seven straight World Cups is dangerously close to ending. In order to keep it going, Mexico will have to beat Saudi Arabia — by a lot — and pray for some help.
“We still have some hope and we have faith and we have to work,” forward Hirving Lozano said in Spanish on Saturday night after the loss to Argentina. “Even if there’s a 1 percent chance, we’ll try.”
The biggest problem for Mexico so far this tournament has been what it will need the most on Wednesday against Saudi Arabia: goals. Mexico has scored none. In two games, it has attempted 15 shots. Only five have been on target. Against Argentina, Mexico focused more on defense and control, while hoping to get the ball up the field quickly on transition. While the strategy held Argentina and Lionel Messi scoreless in the first half, it unraveled at times in the second half.
“Hurt,” forward Henry Martin said of the team’s mood. “We deserved more. We had a great game, in the first half, they didn’t score. The first goal was the only chance they had.”
Asked after the game what message he had for fans who might be angry at the team’s performances at the World Cup, Gerardo Martino, Mexico’s Argentine coach, bristled at the question. He said that he knows his team has struggled with consistently on offense. In its scoreless draw with Poland, he pointed out, Mexico mostly dominated the game but couldn’t quite finish its chances near the goal. Against Argentina, he said Mexico tried a different tactic — and didn’t expect many scoring chances — but failed in its final passes when attacking.
As for the fans, Martino said to reporters: “It depends on your view. If you have a view of 60 or 30 minutes? If you tell them about 30 minutes, people will stay mad. If you tell them about 60, probably not as much.”
Against Saudi Arabia, Martino suggested, there would be more changes to Mexico’s lineup and tactics, because “we need to score at least three goals” in hopes of advancing.