World Cup promotion against Mexico’s not-so-friendly Colombia, Tata Martino

Mexico head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino is already in the hot seat ahead of the 2022 World Cup. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. —For 45 minutes it was almost perfect. In that same time frame it all fell.

All the good that Mexico did in the first half against Colombia on Tuesday, arguably their best display of fútbol in a long time, was completely destroyed as they conceded the final two goals and lost 3- 2 at Levi’s Stadium.

World Cup launch matches do two things: build hype and give the players confidence in what lies ahead. It seemed El Tri All those boxes were being checked until Colombia made a half-time sub that completely changed the dynamics of the game. Instead of a night of celebration, it was more of the same for Mexican fans who were wary of what their team could, or could not, achieve.

The World Cup is 53 days away, and after these latest pair of games, Mexico are dealing with recurring confidence issues. Sure, they beat Peru 1-0 on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, but even that inconclusive performance was turned on its head when Hirving Lozano found the back of the net in the 85th minute. Otherwise there wasn’t much to take from that game other than what we already knew: Mexico lacks creativity in the final third and struggles to score.

On Tuesday in the Bay Area, the first half was the complete opposite. Mexico looked aggressive, making direct runs into the box and creating offense. Defensively they had top players such as Liverpool’s Luis Diaz and Juventus’ Juan Cuadrado. Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s game was basically to tell everyone to relax.

But that was short lived as Colombia representative Luis Sinisterra opened the half with a quick goal and equalized 3 minutes later. Wilmar Barrios scored the winning goal from a superb volley outside the box in the 68th minute.

“When No. 9 the opponent for Eintracht Frankfurt, their player for Liverpool and the goal for Juventus, it is clear that there will be a point in the game they will try to cut their level,” said Martino. “Those are the moments we have to build our comfort, order and not make mistakes.”

On paper, Mexico bound for Qatar with a team that won’t be at the World Cup. A very good one about that, but that’s not your focus El Tri.

It’s about trying to find a balance they’ve been looking for for a long time. And as time has passed, and the tournaments have been lost (specifically to the competitive United States), Mexico seems to have not improved much in terms of competing for the World Cup. A lot of that falls on Martino, rightly or wrongly. The relationship is strained and this loss added another dimension to it.

Colombia defender Davinson Sanchez (23) blocks Mexico forward Henry Martin (20) during the first half of a friendly international soccer match in Santa Clara, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A .Vxe1;squez)

Colombia defender Davinson Sanchez (23) blocks Mexico forward Henry Martin (20) during the first half of a friendly international soccer match in Santa Clara, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Godofredo A .Vásquez)

After Saturday’s win against Peru, Tata was all smiles and even joking in his post-match news conference. The tone on Tuesday was far different, argumentative and agitated as he threw less subliminal messages at former Mexico players turned members of the ever-criticizing media. He also spoke about problems with structure in Liga MX and the impact that has on the pool of the national team and the players. While those are valid points, Martino tries to voice his concerns any chance he gets. On Saturday he said he was happy and excited for what lies ahead, but that is far from the feeling of the fans.

That inevitable friction is reaching breaking point.

“When a team doesn’t win, the outside perspective is completely different,” Martino said.

Tata can bash the media all he wants, and has been doing it for some time now, but the only way to change the situation is to win. He snapped back angrily at a reporter when asked about striker Henry Martin, saying the media was infatuated with judging No. 9 on goals scored only.

That, of course, happens to be one of his main concerns El Tri.

Much of that outside noise he refers to was generated by his unwillingness to consider Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico’s leading scorer, as an option for this roster. The ship has clearly sailed, despite Hernandez scoring 10 goals in his last 10 games for the LA Galaxy, including a brace just a few hundred miles north of the Rose Bowl even though Mexico’s offense looked stagnant in that win against Peru.

Whether Chicharito would benefit or not El Tri now a moot point, but Tata’s handling of that situation, among many other things, continues to add fuel to this fire.

Mexico have two exhibition games left (Sweden and Iraq) before the World Cup opener on November 22 against Poland. For the most part the roster is pretty well defined. Last-minute decisions will be made on injured stars Raul Jimenez and Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, two vital pieces that could boost this squad if they were to make the roster, although the outlook doesn’t look great.

Regardless, Martino is leading a team into Qatar hoping to achieve that “quinto partido” that has been far too long in Mexico. That would mean reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986. Since then they have been eliminated in the Round of 16 in seven straight World Championships.

But first they have to worry about Poland, Argentina and Saudi Arabia before they think about anything else. The results of those games, good or bad, will be picked up, as they usually do, and Martino will likely receive most of the criticism.

Meanwhile, Mexican fans continue to adopt the “whatever happens” attitude to the World Cup, because they somehow know the fate of their team: for the tournament and also for the future.

Time is running out and the noise of “Fuera Tata” is only getting louder.

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