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Araujo's nightmare night against Argentina the latest sign of El Tri inconsistency

1:10 PM EDT 9/11/19
Nestor Araujo Mexico
The center back regularly stops some of La Liga's best players with Celta but has worryingly struggled with the national team on multiple occasions
It will be a fitful trip back to Spain for Nestor Araujo. The Mexico national team center back had a horrendous showing against Argentina, and it could be days or even weeks before he gets images of Lautaro Martinez - the man who put three goals past El Tri in a 4-0 Argentina romp Tuesday night - beating him pushed out of his head.

El Tri manager Tata Martino and the handful of his players who spoke after the game put the goals down to 'individual errors' and largely were talking around saying Araujo was responsible.

"It's difficult. I had to keep my mind clear after that first half. We started well, maybe in the first 10 minutes, after that there were the errors and the goals they scored against us," goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said. "They had the fluidity they needed and we were a bit fragile in the defensive zone."

On the first goal, Araujo is in possession but sends his pass directly to Argentina midfielder Leandro Paredes. Paredes finds Martinez who beat a trio of Mexico defenders, including Araujo, who rushed back but was shrugged off by the Inter forward as he fired in the opener.

The second goal saw Araujo attempt to boot a ball away from Martinez but instead send it straight into the Argentine's body. Exequiel Palacios and Martinez took on the rest of the Mexico defense and won, with Palacios' through ball getting to Martinez for the second goal.

And while Carlos Salcedo was the guilty party on the play that led to Paredes' converted penalty, the fourth and final goal once again saw Araujo turned into a victim. The center backs came together, so Martinez took his first touch out wide. Even with Araujo getting a boot onto it, he could do nothing to stop "El Toro" from completing the hat trick.

Fans may remember this isn't the first time we've been talking about Araujo's individual errors. It was his mistake in Denver that let Canada back into a Gold Cup group game, with Lucas Cavallini catching him on the ball and earning a breakaway that cut that contest to 2-1. Andres Guardado was able to respond and El Tri comfortably won, 3-1, but it could've been a different story.

The center backs playing well with the ball at their feet and passing accurately is critical to Martino's team playing as it wants to play. After the first mistake from Araujo, however, it became tough not only for those players to execute their tasks but also for their teammates to keep putting their faith in the defenders.

"We have a way of setting up the game, with the central midfielder and the two center backs. You saw it in the first 15 minutes and it was giving the feeling that it was working - maybe we were playing a bit too deep, but it was working," Martino said after the contest. "When the first error happens, there's no reason to think we didn't want to keep playing the same game as the first 15 minutes.

"But, as it happens, you start to have doubts, the fears, the fact that you put the ball in a place thinking your teammate is going to take it, the opponent is there and the disorder starts, the doubts about how things are going to work creep in. If we hadn't committed the errors that allowed the goal, or even if Argentina had scored (the first) goal in another way, surely we would've competed a lot better."

It's harsh to put the blowout loss entirely on one player's shoulders. Salcedo was also poor, as was El Tri's midfield. And, after a game in which the first shot on goal came in second-half stoppage time, Martino said he was most worried about how disconnected his star wingers Hirving Lozano and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona looked from the rest of the team. Still, a cleaner game from Araujo, and perhaps the headlines are talking about a narrow defeat and a team needing more cohesion rather than a side outclassed and blown out by a far-superior opponent. "It was a good opportunity to show our best way of playing, and the truth is we didn't do it," Martino said.

What has to be so frustrating for Araujo and Martino is the player's club form hasn't hinted at any sort of difficulties. In fact, few Mexicans are consistently playing as well at such a high level as Araujo. Those who are, like Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano, are attackers. His club team backed him on social media in the face of criticism, saying they know good things are coming for their player.

And you'd think they'd be right. Based on his club performances, the 28-year-old should be better with the national team, but he's been inconsistent with El Tri since his move to Spain. So maybe that's just who Araujo is. A very good club player, sure, but get him out of the national team. Except, that ignores the player's past. It was just his third international start when he may have been the star of El Tri's win over Uruguay to begin the 2016 Copa America Centenario. Then with Santos Laguna, he quickly picked up on difficult concepts then-manager Juan Carlos Osorio wanted to implement and put in a fantastic performance.

From then on, he was a player Osorio could rely on. Araujo played five games at the Confederations Cup - putting in top-notch showings against some of the best national teams in the world. He also in six World Cup qualification matches before missing out on a trip to the 2018 World Cup because of complications stemming from a knee injury suffered with the national team in a friendly against Croatia. It's hard to believe El Tri's thin back line in Russia wouldn't have benefited from Araujo. So what happened to that Araujo? Is it a lack of confidence when he pulls on the Mexico shirt? A level of uncomfortableness with the system in which he's being asked to play? It doesn't add up.

What Mexico needs is generational change. It needs younger and better players at each position pushing past veterans and into the starting lineup. After what we saw in the two September games, it's difficult to believe Araujo is a better option at the left center back slot than Hector Moreno. That leaves Martino in the uncomfortable position of relying upon a 31-year-old player based in the Qatari league for his "A-team". That is until Araujo gives reason to believe he can put in an error-free performance over 90 minutes.