This was only supposed to be a taste of what the Mexico national team is like for Omar Govea and Uriel Antuna. Now, ahead of Monday's friendly with Poland, the young duo could be thrust into action.
Such is the situation for El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio, who called in 23 field players for friendly games in Europe against Belgium and Poland but has seen five leave since Thursday. First came Jesus Corona, who left before the Belgium match because of a personal tragedy. Two players, forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and midfielder Edson Alvarez, didn't make it through their shifts against the Red Devils. Two more, midfielder Hector Herrera and Giovani dos Santos were on the field for the final whistle but since have been ruled out because of knocks.
It leaves Osorio with a bare cupboard, especially considering the short turnaround for the team from Friday to Monday. Not only will Osorio have fewer players to choose from, he will want to make several changes to his team. Well - maybe that's always true for Osorio, who has been criticized for his frequent changes to the starting XI. In this case, most of the Europe-based players won't be eager to play more minutes before heading back to their club for potentially a third match in seven days, nor will the coach want to put them in a bad situation with players like defenders Hector Moreno and Diego Reyes already struggling to win the affection of their club coaches.
The coach can only do so much, though, and the mid-match injuries will remind him that even though there are six substitutions available you can only manage minutes so effectively. The coach was planning to do things differently against Belgium as well, but ended up being happy with Hirving Lozano's assertive two-goal showing and also how his defense settled into the game.
"There was a time in the game against Belgium when we wanted to take out Hirving Lozano to have him more fresh for (Monday)'s game, but at the end we decided to leave him and we'll decide if he plays (against Poland) or not," Osorio said Sunday at his prematch news conference.
"Soccer keeps showing us that it's very unpredictable on the field. We don't know if we'll have the chance to play certain players," he'd said before the match. "For example, in the previous game we wanted to make changes in defense and at the end didn't make any change because of the good field that was happening on the field. I don't like to and I don't predict who is going to play except for the XI with which I think we're going to start."
Not that the 56-year-old wants to or could, but starting the same squad against Poland wouldn't make much sense. The teams play drastically different styles, with Belgium's open play that saw it score three but also concede three against Mexico a stark contrast to Poland's more measured approach.
Without Robert Lewandowski up top because of a thigh injury, The Eagles won't have their biggest attacking threat but had chances from set pieces in a scoreless draw against Uruguay. Bartosz Bereszynski pushed up from the right to link up with Jakub Blaszczykowski to success, and Poland may push harder for a goal Monday. Like the game against Belgium, it's a great opportunity for Mexico's players to come together and prepare for a type of team they could run into at the World Cup.
"With just three days between to play against two national teams that are as different as Belgium was and Poland will be, it'll be a good test for us because they're going to be two totally different styles of play and we'll have the necessary humility to respect them. There's a reason they're in the top places in the FIFA rankings," center back Hector Moreno said Sunday at a news conference. "I think that while we have more games of this caliber, Mexican soccer and the Mexican national team is going to keep growing."
The draw against Belgium, which saw Mexico not only get a good result against a top team but have sustained periods of quality soccer while doing it, was a nice sign of growth for Mexico. The team can't backtrack against Poland, even with significant absences. It wouldn't necessarily erase the progress of the Belgium game, perhaps Mexico's finest showing of 2017, but it would definitely be the game that was remembered. Costa Rica's 5-0 loss to Spain has sparked outrage and panic from its press. A big loss against Poland and Mexico's press would do the same - just weeks from the World Cup draw and four months until its next top-level friendly game.
Mexico needs to close out the year strong. If it can't, the coaching staff and players may be tempted to point at the absences as a reason. It's an excuse that will fall short with the public, and Osorio knows that.
"Subjectively speaking we'd be happy with a good performances from the team," he said Sunday. "Objectively speaking that we win 1-0."