Mexico’s draw vs. Costa Rica fuels calls for coach Martino to go


Mexico didn’t lose their latest game, but it still had the atmosphere of a defeat. After 90 minutes of uninspiring soccer from Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica, manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino and his men slumped to an underwhelming 0-0 draw in a near-empty Estadio Azteca. In a match where El Tri were only able to hit the target once from 25 desperate shots in total, chants of “Fuera Tata” (“Tata out”) could be heard from the limited capacity of 2,000 in the stands.

It was far from Mexico’s best night. While Los Ticos happily sat back and absorbed pressure, El Tri suffered from a serious lack of ideas and creativity going forward. Even with talented names like Napoli‘s Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Sevilla‘s Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Atletico Madrid‘s Hector Herrera and Ajax‘s Edson Alvarez in the XI, Mexico failed to create enough decent chances to win the match.

“The game from Mexico, in general terms, was bad,” Martino admitted in his postmatch news conference. “It was bad, especially in the first half. I believe we improved in the second half. But in general we played badly.”

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Martino likely knew that a big opportunity was missed. After claiming a dramatic 2-1 away win in last Thursday’s qualifier against Jamaica, the stage was perfectly set on Sunday for El Tri to earn a straightforward home victory over Costa Rica. Mexico had momentum, and up against a vulnerable opposition that only had seven goals and three wins through nine CONCACAF Octagonal matches, a much-coveted move up the table was within reach.

With Canada claiming a 2-0 win over the United States earlier in the day, a win for Mexico would have catapulted them past their biggest rivals and up to second in the table with 20 points. If El Tri had found a way to brush the Costa Ricans aside, it would have been easy to imagine the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) already preparing Qatar 2022 accommodations and flights. Those early plans have now been halted.

Mexico remain in a decent position at third in the Octagonal table — the top three all earn automatic places in Qatar — but there’s no denying that they’ve once again complicated their own path. If they lose to Panama on Wednesday in their final qualifier of this international break, they’ll slide down to fourth in the Octagonal — a spot which only guarantees an inter-confederation playoff spot for the World Cup.

Losing or even drawing with Panama would also mean failing to reach the goal of seven points laid out by FMF president Yon de Luisa in January. In a news conference in which he gave his support but “no guarantees” for Martino’s future with El Tri, De Luisa stated that “we’d be very happy” with seven or more points from Mexico in the current window. Long story short, if Mexico don’t defeat Panama on Wednesday at home, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Martino dropped by the FMF.

Keeping in mind that the manager also reportedly reconsidered his role with the national team late last year, the writing might already be on the wall for the former Barcelona, Argentina and Atlanta United coach. His job is on the line, and although outside factors like the imposing backdrop of COVID-19, the elevation of the Estadio Azteca and the packed three-game international window might have had a role in Sunday’s lackadaisical performance, Martino will need to energize his squad who have recently been playing with the intensity of a friendly.

It’s a make-or-break moment for Mexico, and if they win, their chances of qualifying for the World Cup would get a massive boost as they close out their second-to-last international window in the Octagonal. Depending on how things go, they may even make the leap past the United States and up to second if the Americans have issues with Honduras on Wednesday.

However, if Mexico lose or draw, it could prove to be a disappointing end to the Martino era that has only seen one victory in the last six games in all competitions.

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