Losses are painful to swallow. It’s an undisputed fact. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, while in other situations, it’s inevitable. In the case of Mexico in this World Cup, it was the latter. If you have followed this team for more than a decade, you are fully aware of this.
Mexico is well known for its habit of getting eliminated in the Round of 16. Those eliminations simply happened due to collapsing under pressure or being out matched. In most of those scenarios, there were decent efforts to go the distance. But, just as a coach can build a successful team, he can easily dismantle it. In comes the most recent manager of the Mexican National Team, Gerardo “Tata” Martino. At this time, he is the most hated man in Mexico.
Martino joined El Tri in 2019, following a successful 2018 MLS Cup victory, with Atlanta United FC. Just a few years prior, he had won the Supercopa de Espana 2013, with FC Barcelona. On paper, it seemed like a good signing. But, there is a big difference between managing a club and a national team. This was a self-inflicted wound by the Mexican Football Federation. And it should hold themselves accountant, just as much as Martino.
It didn’t take a long time to realize that Martino was not the right man to make Mexico a credible World Cup contender. Shortly after his hiring, Mexico won the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Getting there came along with plenty of speed bumps, like struggling against Martinique in the group stage and barely scraping by Haiti in the semi-finals.
His runs in the 2020 Nations Cup and 2021 Gold Cup solidified justification to get rid of him. Back-to-back losses to the United States, in the Finals, weren’t enough. Then came a World Cup qualifier loss to the US, last November. 0-2 on American soil. It couldn’t get any more brutal.
During the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Mexico failed to make an impression. The team was just there, taking up space. Martino didn’t make changes that would straighten out the path to Qatar. Most embarrassing was losing to Canada 1-2, of all teams.
At no time did Martino learn from any of those matches. Even after having officially qualified, Mexico still found ways to lose. Against Colombia and Sweden, two teams that missed out on this World Cup, Martino worsened El Tri. To add more fuel to the fire, not calling up Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez was met with instant backlash. In Martino’s own words, “In the case of Chicharito, we are simply going with other forwards. We will try to choose the 26 players who are closest to our game.” And this should have led the Mexican Federation to have fired Martino immediately. “We have two [forwards] who can play and two who can’t. What I like is that we don’t have not enough players. Four forwards are not going to go [to Qatar], but as long as they make it difficult for me to choose, I’m very happy about that. Surely there will be talk of who is left out, but the problem will be abundance and not scarcity. The aspiration that we have, in the first days of October, is that he can work with our medical staff. [Hopefully] he [Jesus “Tecatito” Corona] has some chances to fight for a place.” Wolverhampton Wanderers’ forward, Raul Jiminez’ made for a solid option on offense. There was a catch to having him in the squad. He has a fractured skull.
That’s right. Martino selected injured players for Qatar, over Javier Hernandez. It sounds more like Martino took a blind gamble and simply didn’t care about the risks. Then again, he probably had a personal vendetta against certain players. Skepticism rose, about Martino’s commitment to Mexico, when his team was drawn in the same group as his home nation and team he coached for two Copa Americas, Argentina.
El Tri’s 2022 World Cup campaign started with a barely acceptable 0-0 draw against Poland. Then came the true test of Martino’s loyalty, against Argentina. ‘Gutless’ and ‘pitiful’ best describe Mexico’s performance, against Messi’s Argentina. Martino’s souless expression said it all. He sent out his squad to die, and didn’t care. Midfield Luis Chavez summed it all, “We didn’t know what Tata wanted us to do”. Argentina was relentless, in their 2-0 thrashing of Mexico. Beating Saudi Arabia, 2-1 accomplished nothing for Mexico, as Argentina defeated Poland, to mathematically eliminate El Tri.
In all of Mexico’s World Cup trips, this has been the most humiliating in recent history. El Tri nowhere near resembled its competitive predecessors. Martino left behind a team without a sense of direction, lacking structure and self-confidence. And the reality is that we saw it coming from a mile away.