Mexico-Argentina W2W4: Martino faces former squad with unbeaten streak on the line
Mexico will play Argentina on Tuesday in an international friendly in San Antonio. With a crowd of nearly 60,000 expected at the Alamodome, the match will pit Mexico manager Gerardo 'Tata' Martino against his former squad, led by fellow ex-Newell's Old Boys player Lionel Scaloni. ESPN FC's Tom Marshall and Tim Vickery on what to expect from Tuesday's clash.
What to expect from Mexico -- by Tom Marshall
SAN ANTONIO -- Diego Armando Maradona wanted Gerardo "Tata" Martino return to the Argentina national team. And he probably won't be the only Argentina fan that will watch Tuesday's friendly vs. Mexico in the Alamodome with a degree of envy, given everything that La Albiceleste has gone through since Martino left in 2016, as well as the ease at which the Newell's Old Boys product has slotted into life as the El Tri manager.
"Tata" -- who still resides in the same Rosario neighborhood he grew up in when back in Argentina -- has said that the fact the game is against Argentina means little to him. The previews of Tuesday's game in Argentina will focus around Martino, but the 56-year-old is all business and entirely focused on El Tri.
Tuesday's match is important for Martino not because it is against his former side, but because it's a chance for Mexico to test itself against a team that is superior to it, something that is rare. After a summer that was capped by winning the Gold Cup against the United States and a fall that started by pulling apart the same opposition 3-0 last Friday, the game against a non-CONCACAF world power like Argentina will be a litmus test of how far Mexico has come under Martino this year.
"What we want to see is the consolidation of an idea, facing one of the world powers," Martino said in a news conference in San Antonio last month. "Of the four or five elite teams there are, we are playing against one and that is another step: to try to impose our playing style coming up against a very important national team."
Last time these two teams met, things were very different. Mexico lost two games 2-0 on Argentine soil last November in a miserable trip that was perhaps best remembered for Guillermo Ochoa pulverizing the lack of direction in the Mexican national team. It capped a 2018 in which Mexico lost six of its last seven games.
How different things, on the surface, look now. The problems with players' bonuses and obligations during national team meet-ups have been cleared up and Martino will look to extend his unbeaten run as Mexico coach to 12 games. If El Tri avoids defeat against Argentina in front of a crowd expected to near 60,000, it could easily go unbeaten during the whole of 2019.
Given the opposition and the fact Mexico won't play a non-CONCACAF side again until next June at the earliest, Martino is likely to field a strong side, arguably the best XI he has at his disposal. There are some question marks over whether will Martino will repeat starters from the win over the U.S. -- he said there wouldn't be many players starting both games -- and Andres Guardado, Luis "Chaka" Rodriguez, Cesar Montes, Rodolfo Pizarro and Erick Gutierrez have all left camp.
In goal, Ochoa is a guarantee, with Miguel Layun, Carlos Salcedo, Nestor Araujo and Jesus Gallardo likely to make up the back four. In the holding role, Ajax's Edson Alvarez is set to return with Jonathan dos Santos and Hector Herrera possibly in front as the interior midfielders. In the forward line, Hirving Lozano, Jesus Corona and Raul Jimenez would be a mouth-watering combination.
Chances to play teams as good as Argentine, even if La Albiceleste isn't in his best moment right now, don't come up often and Martino's Mexico will be determined to take advantage.
What to expect from Argentina -- by Tim Vickery
The last truly convincing performance of the Argentina national team took place in Texas and Martino was the coach -- the semifinal of the 2016 Copa Centenario in Houston when Lionel Messi and company took the United States to pieces on the way to a 4-0 win.
Now they are back in Texas, and Martino is in charge of Mexico, their Tuesday opponents. Argentina, meanwhile, are under the command of Lionel Scaloni, a man with no previous coaching experience.
How did they get here? First, exasperated by the chaos of the Argentine FA, Martino resigned after the Copa Centenario. Edgardo Bauza stepped in and struggled in a troubled World Cup qualification campaign. The highly rated -- and unquestionably talented -- Jorge Sampaoli was a predictable failure; Argentina lacked the defensive pace for his high pressing game, and Sampaoli is too stressed under pressure. Russia 2018 was a disaster, Sampaoli, on a hefty long term contract was sacked. His pay off strained the coffers of the FA, who appointed Scaloni as a caretaker mainly because he was cheap.
The big name candidates such as Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone are not yet tempted, Argentina's displays in the recent Copa America -- where they shrugged off a dreadful start to finish third -- were deemed satisfactory, and so they are sticking with Scaloni.
It is indicative of the generational change that, with Messi suspended and Sergio Aguero rested, only two of the team sheet from that 2016 squad are in the current squad -- and neither Marcos Rojo nor Nico Otamendi are likely to start against Mexico.
The defensive positions remain a headache, and Tuesday could be an important moment in the international career of River Plate centre back Lucas Martinez Quarta. He was given his debut in Thursday's goalless draw against Chile, and received rave reviews from the Argentine press. It is possible, though, that part of this can be explained by the local tendency to go overboard on domestically based youngsters. Martinez Quarta did commit one howler when he misjudged a cross. Top class defending is about the elimination of mistakes, and it will be fascinating to see how he copes with the challenge of the dangerous Mexican strikers.
One area where Scaloni does look blessed is with the new crop of central midfielders. Exequiel Palacios is an outstanding promise, and two substitute debutants from Thursday, Nico Dominguez and Alexis MacAllister will also be keen for another chance to show what they can do. All three were born in 1998, and should have bright international futures.
And so if that last visit to Texas represented the end of an era and the start of troubled times, the current Argentina side will be hoping that the Mexico game will put them on course to fight for a place in the 2022 World Cup.