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Mexico preparing for actual challenge against upstart Canada

6:51 PM WAT 19/06/2019
Tata Martino Mexico 2019
After rolling through an overmatched Cuba team, Tata Martino wants his team to be aware of the challenge it faces Wednesday

What do you make of a game like Mexico's 7-0 victory over Cuba? If you're Tata Martino, not very much.

The Mexico manager respects every opponent, but said the analysis you can do after a blowout contest isn't incredibly profound. The analysis of Wednesday's game should go much deeper.

El Tri are expecting an actual challenge against Canada. The only nation aside from Mexico and the U.S. to win a Gold Cup, Canada coach John Herdman has a wealth of talented young players with a few old hands like Atiba Hutchinson and Milan Borjan there to steer the ship. Like Martino's current streak with Mexico, Canada has won in every match Herdman has overseen - a six-match streak.

There have been blowouts in the past, like Mexico thrashing Canada 8-0 in a 1993 Gold Cup match at Estadio Azteca. Now, Canada is a team that puts those sort of scorelines on other teams. Martino has been paying attention.

"I've been able to see four or five Canada games. I don't have all the fine points down to talk about the team as a collective. I don't have any doubt that individually the Canada squad is very important, with players even playing in the Premier League or in the Bundesliga, really important players. There are very important wingers, midfielders, central defenders.

"With that, just today I was telling the players that we're not playing against the history of Canada, but this Canada team. A lot of times people complain, 'This national team or that national team doesn't have history.' But history isn't the important thing. The important thing is what they have today, and I think Canada has put together ... probably one of the best national teams it's been able to put together in recent history."

In contrast to a Cuba team that was sadly forgettable, these are faces Mexico will be seeing again and again in the next several years. Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies created issues for Martinique in the first half with fellow teenager and Gent forward Jonathan David converting a pair of goals in the 4-0 win.

The midfield is so crowded, Herdman moved his most senior player in Hutchinson and a regular LAFC starter in Mark Anthony Kaye to the back line - though that also indicates how thin The Reds are at the back. Each manager is too classy and clever to say it, but each has had this group match circled since the matchups were revealed in April. The expectation is to roll through Cuba and Martinique. This one is the one that will make the difference between winning the group and finishing second place.

Canada hasn't always been excited about facing El Tri - understandable given the last time Canada knocked off Mexico we had just overcome the evils of the Y2K bug. Now, there's enthusiasm from the Canadians that they could secure a statement win to encapsulate the positive mood around the team during the last 18 months.

“Going into the Mexico game, we all know it’s going to be a tough one," Davies told reporters. "Mexico is a top side, it will be a good test for Canada as we have a new identity, a new structure and a new team, and this will be a good opportunity for us to test ourselves.

"Every player on our roster is looking forward to this match, as a footballer this is where you want to be, playing against the biggest teams on the biggest stage and every player on this team is ready to give their all on Wednesday."

Canada's coaches and players seem to be relishing the opportunity. After a Nations League campaign filled with pressure to not only get wins but get big wins and end up in League A (a goal Herdman's group achieved) and an opener against a Martinique team without the players based in top leagues Canada or Mexico can deploy, this is the first match for Herdman in which he's not expected to get a victory.

"This is just a great opportunity for Canada to come in as an underdog," he said at a news conference. "You know, the last six games, we've been expected to win every game we've played, so this is the first time in my tenure where you get a chance to actually feel like an underdog, David and Goliath. It's a nice feeling."

The underdog is hungry, hunting a victory. David is brave, polishing his stone and confidently launching it at the giant. The only way either succeeds, though, is when the favorite drops focus.

Martino has told his players to expect a tough match from a new-look Canada. He's said on several occasions that much can be learned from a negative result. He's also said, though, that he wants to extend the winning streak and keep it rolling as long as possible. The way to do that is to take legitimate threats, like the one Canada now poses, seriously.