Mexico's lack of depth will be on display in second game vs. Argentina

Comments()
Marcelo Endelli
El Tri's second-choice team is a far cry from the one the South Americans are able to field - and it reveals issues holding them back

Remember Mexico's elimination from the World Cup? It's something many El Tri fans have tried to push out of their mind, but the biggest moment of 2018 also will be instructive as the national team closes out the year Tuesday against Argentina.

On one side, there was Mexico, trying to bounce back from an elevator ride. They'd been all the way up, beating Germany and South Korea, and were all the way down after narrowly escaping the group following a lopsided loss to Sweden in the third game. On the other side, there was Brazil, which had Neymar, and Willian and Gabriel Jesus. Then Fernandinho and Roberto Firminho came in off the bench.

The lesson that night? There simply was a talent gap that Mexico couldn't close. (Another lesson was not to start a guy who is almost 40 in the midfield against one of the world's most technical teams.) El Tri made too many mistakes to overcome the difference in talent between the duo of Hugo Ayala and Edson Alvarez compared with Brazil's superstars.

Article continues below

Ayala played because he had to. First-choice center back Hector Moreno was suspended while Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo didn't make it to the final World Cup squad because of injuries.

The lack of depth will be on display again Tuesday.

Both managers are retooling their teams after Friday's 2-0 Argentina victory. It's just that interim Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni can deploy an alternate team that includes Mauro Icardi and Erik Lamela up top. Santiago Ascacibar, a 21-year-old who plays for Stuttgart, is set for his third cap in midfield. Even in goal, where Argentina has struggled, Real Sociedad shot-stopper Geronimo Rulli is getting an opportunity.

Contrast that with Mexico's likely XI with 37-year-old goalkeeper Jesus Corona set for another friendly start and his Cruz Azul teammate Julio Dominguez earning an 18th cap at age 31. Ferretti's inclusion of these players is puzzling, but he didn't have too many options to choose from. Injuries to Hirving Lozano and Jesus Angulo (and later Araujo) sent him scrambling, while emerging stars like Diego Lainez, Jose Juan Macias and Misael Dominguez are with the Mexico U-20 team securing passage to next year's World Cup in Poland.

Tuca Ferretti Mexico

That's precisely the problem, though. An Argentina without Lionel Messi and other stars is still able to field a team that has the talent to compete at the next level, while Mexico's talent production pipeline lags behind.

How do you fix that? Liga MX's clumsy youth-minute requirement is hardly the answer, especially if the authorities are going to be as forgiving about it as they have been this tournament, giving Morelia a pass and counting minutes for players called into Mexico youth camps at an outsized rate. 

Ferretti remarked in a news conference Monday that the national team doesn't have full support from owners and managers of club teams who may put certain conditions on their players when releasing them for friendly matches, or try to negotiate certain players staying at home for one window or another.

"What do we want, the benefit of Mexican football as a whole or do I want the benefit for my club? Are we really supporters or not? This situation isn't an agreeable one, and if we can't get it solved we're going to keep doing the same thing. 'I'm loaning you the player, but I'm not loaning him. I support you, but I don't support you,'" Ferretti said.

The league also holds many players in Mexico with high salaries and the comforts of home rather than in Argentina where players like Juan Foyth or Messi himself are pushed to go to Europe at the first sign of interest. Sometimes that leads to players washing out and not making it, but previous Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio was only the latest to push, prod and practically beg players to try their luck with bigger clubs when the opportunities arose. Still, it's difficult to ask someone to take less money now for something that isn't certain.

It truly is a risk both for the player and for the Liga MX clubs. Those are the risks that must be taken, however, if Mexico is going to develop the same kind of depth as teams like Brazil or Argentina, the kind of depth that means a top-quality player is ready to step in when there's an injury or suspension instead of having to lean on someone like Ayala, who is a good Liga MX player but isn't at the level needed.

"We don't have players like the Argentines or Brazilians that have enough players to make up three national teams. We have, max, 15 or 20 players and you see the national teams of Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Peru Venezuela, scattered around all over the world and we can't get to those levels," goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa said after the defeat Friday. "Those of us in Europe are fighting, trying to make it, sacrificing things, but they say, 'You don't play.' Would you rather they return to Mexico and play, or stay and fight to represent the country well?

"We all know where the best and most demanding football is and what we have to do to grow."

Mexico still could get a win Tuesday, even without the profound reserves of players hardened by European competition that Argentina has. The beauty of sports, and especially a sport like soccer in which a draw is a possible outcome, is that anyone can get a result on any day. We saw that in the World Cup as well. On paper, reigning world champion Germany should have beaten Mexico at the World Cup. The difference that day in Moscow was the plan Osorio drew up. Ferretti isn't used to maneuvering the team on the field with less talent, and he certainly hasn't been preparing for this game as long as Osorio was drawing up his plan for the eventual 1-0 victory.

That's why Tuesday could be a difficult night for Mexico, though one that ultimately could help both the players and those in charge realize what needs to change in the next cycle to get El Tri to the next level.

Next article:
Al Ain 3 Team Wellington 3 (aet, 4-3 on penalties): Shootout heartbreak for semi-pros in Club World Cup
Next article:
Knee injury rules Australia's Mooy out of Asian Cup
Next article:
Tottenham v Man Utd to be played at Wembley amid new stadium delays
Next article:
Atlanta still yet to receive 'serious' bid for 'Bale-like' Newcastle target Almiron
Next article:
Rangers & Celtic Europa League permutations: What do Scottish teams need to qualify for knockouts?
Close