El Tri starts fast but comes up empty, loses to Argentina

CORDOBA, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 16: Players of Mexico look dejected during a friendly match between Argentina and Mexico at Mario Kempes Stadium on November 16, 2018 in Cordoba, Argentina. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images)
CORDOBA, ARGENTINA - NOVEMBER 16: Players of Mexico look dejected during a friendly match between Argentina and Mexico at Mario Kempes Stadium on November 16, 2018 in Cordoba, Argentina. (Photo by Jam Media/Getty Images) /

El Tri fell to 1-0-4 since the World Cup as the Tuca Era is coming to an end with a whimper.

Two defensive errors by El Tri, two Argentine goals. It was as simple as that.

Mexico lost 2-0 to host Argentina in Córdoba’s Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes in the first of two friendly matches during the November FIFA break, the final two games for interim coach Tuca Ferretti. Mexico has been without a full-time coach since the World Cup when Juan Carlos Osorio declined to sign a new contract.

Ferretti has been working with a young squad as El Tri seeks to identify players who will be in their prime for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. On Friday, he started 7 players who play in Europe, however.

El Tri had two scoring chances at the outset, but never threatened again while Argentina took advantage of its opportunities to forge a comfortable win without playing especially well.

Team Mexico striker Raúl Jiménez rang the crossbar with a header just past the minute mark as Marco Fabián supplied a lovely centering pass even though Jiménez was being marked by two Argentine defenders.

Thirty seconds later, forward Alan Pulido probed the left flank then squared a pass to Fabián who met the ball inside the half-moon but fired straight into the arms of Agustín Marchesín, the América goalie who got the start for the “albiceleste.”

And that was pretty much it for El Tri. In minute 33, skipper Miguel Layún seemed to have been given a scoring chance by Raúl Jiménez who sent a diagonal pass in behind the defense but Layún ran out of gas and Leandro Paredes beat him to the ball with a sliding tackle. Mexico didn’t even get a shot off on the play.

El Tri finished the game with only 1 shot on goal, and only managed to take aim 3 times all game despite finishing with 55% possession.

Memo Ochoa was sterling in between the posts, making 3 big-time saves but he had no chance to save the goals. In minute 39, the Standard Liege keeper saved a header from point-blank range after fullback Chaka Rodríguez lost his man. Lautaro Martínez got behind Chaka and powered a header toward the center of the net as Ochoa scrambled to cover the post and Ochoa was able to get his left knee on the ball then smother it.

The central defense pairing of Diego Reyes and Néstor Araujo played rather well in front of Ochoa, cutting off the Paulo Dybala-led offense with considerable success. But a foul whistled on Erick Gutiérrez (not much of a foul, to be honest) led to a free kick which Dybala curled toward the back post from 35 meters. Defender Ramiro Funes Mori was unmarked and easily nodded the ball home for a 1-0 lead just a minute before halftime.

Replays showed part of Mexico’s defense tried to pull off an offside trap but left fullback Jesús Gallardo did not react and three Argentine players were played onside as a result with Funes Mori the beneficiary of the lapse.

After the opening two minutes, Argentina had enjoyed sustained possession and buzzed around their offensive third while the Mexico trident of Fabián, Pulido and Jiménez were stymied time and time again. There was a disconnect between midfield and the forwards which reduced El Tri’s time with the ball.

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Coach Tuca Ferretti made four changes to open the second half but it made little difference. Argentina sat back a bit more, allowing Mexico to dominate possession during the final 45 minutes. But the possession did not translate into a single shot on goal.

Mexico patiently moved the ball across the back line and up the flanks, but could not find space in the middle of the pitch or into the box. Sub Ángel Saldívar could not break free, twice denied on 1-on-1 opportunities that could have produced good scoring chances.

Failure to keep good spacing between lines also allowed Argentina’s pressing defense to trap and spring double-teams. Too often Mexico was dispossessed when players would get too isolated or when teammates failed to anticipate a move.

Just 7 minutes from time, sub Gerardo Arteaga was caught ball-watching and the result was another goal for Argentina.

Arteaga was marking Renzo Saravia on the right flank when Saravia squared to Rodrigo de Paul in the right channel. Arteaga turned inside to watch the ball and de Paul slotted a perfect pass through the channel into the box for Saravia who dribbled toward the touch line with Arteaga in futile pursuit. Saravia fired a low cross for Mauro Icardi at the far post as Mexico’s Isaac Brizuela hustled back to help his defense but the Chivas midfielder accidentally swatted the ball into his own net.

Mexico has now lost 6 of its past 7 games dating to the final game of the World Cup group stage and has been outscored 15-4 in that span. El Tri will remain in Argentina for a rematch with the No. 12 ranked “albiceleste” on Tuesday night in Mendoza.

Interim coach Ferretti will return full-time to his duties managing the Tigres and Mexico is expected to name its new coach in early December. The expectation is that Atlanta United coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino will be the next coach for El Tri. “Tata” was reportedly at Friday’s game in Córdoba, Argentina, as Atlanta’s next game – the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Finals – is not until Nov. 25.