Since Mexico started their excellent run of eight consecutive appearances at the FIFA World Cup in 1990, the side has always made it out of the group phase and was eliminated in the Round of 16. At a minimum, they would have settled for another berth between the top 16 teams in the world at Qatar 2022.
However, with a tough challenge handed in the draw, in a group featuring Poland, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina, the task of the coach, Gerardo ”Tata” Martino, was always going to be a tough one, especially in a country that is crazy about football, loves the sport and craves performance.
Proud people, with a desire for a Mexican coach for the national team, the fans were left reeling in the past seven years, when Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio and Martino, an Argentinian, were named in the top position of the football pyramid in Mexico.
This is why Martino has been somewhat unpopular between fans and media in the country, yet results have helped the former Barcelona manager to navigate through thick and thin. In fact, upon his dismissal after the elimination at Qatar 2022, Martino had the best winning percentage, 63.6%, between coaches with at least 60 matches at the helm of Mexico’s national team.
In Martino’s tenure, Mexico won the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup and finished second in the 2021 edition, but despite the performances – Mexico won 42 of the 66 games played with the Argentinian coach at the helm – but the results were not as straightforward as the fans would have wanted.
This is why the relationship between Martino and Mexico, as a whole, quickly became sour. With no managerial change before the start of Qatar 2022, as it was explained by the Mexican Federation that it would have been too little, too late, Martino spearheaded the team to the competition.
A 0-0 draw against Poland followed by a 2-0 loss against Argentina saw a must-win game against Saudi Arabia quickly ensue. The 2-1 win did not help, as Poland went through thanks to their superior goal difference.
“I am the first responsible for this terrible disappointment and frustration that we have. As the person in charge, it causes a lot of sadness, I fully assume responsibility for this great failure. My contract ended as soon as the referee blew the final whistle and there is nothing more to be done,” said Martino after the game, announcing his resignation.
But who will pick up the pieces now, as Mexico are already through for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which they will co-host with the United States and Canada?
The expectations are through the roof, as it will be the first time when the country hosts the tournament since 1986 and any misstep will be widely scrutinised. It does not help that Mexico also has an aging squad, with this edition of the World Cup probably being the last for goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, midfielder Andres Guardado and defender Hector Moreno, the three captains of the squad, as well as for midfielder Hector Herrera, who is 32 years old.
“For us, the objective was to score three or four goals. It’s a shame because we tried and we did our best. We created opportunities and I feel like we could have scored more goals today. We weren’t sharp, there were offside calls and it’s a shame,” Ochoa, who featured at his fifth edition of the World Cup, said.
New players and especially a new system must be quickly brought in front, because the time is ticking and the team needs to play as a team for the next years.
As for Martino, this is another setback in his long career. The Argentinian manager was criticised both when coaching Barcelona, in the 2013/14 season and when featuring as Argentina’s coach between 2014 and 2016, with the breakups widely publicized and scrutinised.
Aged 60, he still has a checkered CV, with an MLS Cup with Atlanta United won in 2018, as well as a very good stint as Paraguay’s national team manager. Yet only time will tell how he bounces back after another setback.