DOHA (AP) — When Mexico hired Gerardo Martino, they didn’t do it with only the goal of qualifying them for another World Cup. They bet on the experience of the Argentine coach to lead them to the long-awaited fifth game that the country has been denied since 1986.
Twelve years after leading Paraguay to the quarterfinals at South Africa 2010, Martino will have his first test at Qatar 2022 when he faces Poland on Tuesday.
Since it was host in 1986, Mexico has reached the second round in all the World Cups, except Italy 1990 where it did not participate due to a FIFA punishment. Four Mexican, one Argentine and one Colombian coaches have failed to reach the quarterfinals since then.
Martino, who took over from Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio in January 2019, had an impressive start to his management with 19 wins and just one loss in his first 22 games. Then, in the middle of last year, Martino himself admits that the performance of the Tri was diluted, although he finished second in the qualifying rounds with the same points as the leader Canada.
“From the summer to here, the team has played good games in which the results have not accompanied us,” Martino said on Monday. “Now we hope that the performance will accompany the result because it is already the World Cup.”
The environment close to Martino affirms that the coach likes to make strong and united work groups. Perhaps that is why he decided to keep the same base, something that worked for him when in South Africa 2010 he led the Paraguayans to the penultimate stage, succumbing to the eventual champion Spain.
“What we are trying to do is make ourselves strong in our field, with the group of players and with the staff,” said the strategist. “This team, especially in the last period, is strong behind closed doors.”
In addition to reviewing videos of Paraguay in South Africa 2010, Martino has shown other mistakes made by Mexico in past World Cups that cost them the chance to go further, all so that now the players are more focused.
That maximum concentration should start from the first day because the Mexicans are going to face Robert Lewandowski, one of the most lethal center forwards of the moment, who is looking to score his first goal in a World Cup.
“El ”Tata” has given us that peace of mind with the international experience he has, he transmits that calm to us to handle situations, he transmits it to the group in training and for matches and it helps us to focus on what we have done wrong or what we have done well,” goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said.
For the World Cup, the Mexicans will not be able to count on striker Jesús Corona, who injured his ankle at the start of the season with Sevilla in Spain. Their center forward Raúl Jiménez reappeared midweek after two and a half months of inactivity due to groin pain.
Against Poland, Martino has said that it will be difficult for him to use the Wolverhampton striker, so the door is open for Rogelio Funes Mori or Henry Martín, who are the other nine available.
Martino said that he has already made a decision but did not make it known or want to elaborate on a possible starting lineup.
The Mexicans are expected to take the field with goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, defenders Jesús Gallardo, Héctor Moreno, César Montes and Jorge Sánchez, with Edson Álvarez, Héctor Herrera and Luis Chávez as midfielders and up front with Alexis Vega, Martín and Hirving Lozano.
In a controversial decision, Martino dispensed with the historical scorer Javier Hernández and also Santiago Giménez, who leads the scoring table in the current edition of the Europa League.
Hernández was punished for indiscipline committed in September 2019 and Giménez did not play the qualifiers.
Mexico will have to take precautions against the direct play of Poland, which reached its ninth World Cup through the European playoffs.
The Poles closed their preparations with a 1-0 victory over Chile, in a match in which coach Czesław Michniewicz left out several key players, including goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, striker Piotr Zielinski and Lewandowski.
“Mexico has a lot of quality, we know of its potential,” Lewandowski said. “We will fight to win and we will give our best, they have a lot of quality, rhythm and they are dynamic, we are going to have to be ready to stop them or we are going to have problems”.
The match is transcendental for both countries framed in Group C along with Argentina and Saudi Arabia.
“The group seems complicated to me due to different circumstances”, Martino commented. “There are teams like Argentina that are candidates, not only to win the group but to win the Cup, but there is also Arabia with a different preparation process and Poland that has a lot of talent. That is why tomorrow’s game is of special importance within what can happen in the group”.