Ricardo Ferretti aiming to turn around Mexico's fortunes with Gerardo Martino looking on
MENDOZA, Argentina -- The Mexican national team bids farewell to 2018 on Tuesday against Argentina in the shadow of the Andes, hoping to end the year on a positive note after six losses in El Tri's last seven games.
The match in Mendoza will be Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti's last as interim coach, with his record so far dismal: four losses and just one victory.
Of course, these last few months have not been about results, with Ferretti and the Mexican federation (FMF) instead using them to try out new players, but it hasn't gone particularly well in either category.
"Starting in January we have four years, which is a normal [World Cup] cycle and we've tried to take advantage [of the games since Russia 2018] to play against important opponents and with young players that may begin to feel what the national team is about," FMF general secretary Guillermo Cantu told reporters on arrivals in Mendoza on Sunday.
Which is all well and good, except that goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa's statements after the 2-0 loss against La Albiceleste went almost completely against that sentiment. Ochoa's words were bold, honest and sent a clear message from a player that could well captain El Tri at Qatar 2022: Mexico needs to find its way, confirm a new coach (almost certainly Gerardo "Tata" Martino) and reorganize in order to export more players to top leagues.
Ochoa dropped the mic with the harsh, yet fair words and jetted back to Europe.
This trip to Argentina so far has been an eye-opener for El Tri. The luxuries and rock-star status afforded the team in the United States -- where Mexico plays on average half its games -- weren't apparent in Cordoba. The hotel the team stayed at was small and located on the outside of town; equipment turned up late forcing Mexico to miss a training session and El Tri's presence didn't really raise an eyebrow from the locals, many of whom only seemed to know players like Ochoa and Javier Hernandez.
Friday's loss was particularly hurtful because Mexico's team wasn't actually that young, despite the narrative from Ferretti that this is the future of El Tri. The Brazilian fielded seven Europe-based players and a starting XI with an average age of 27.3 years. Only two of the starters were under 26 years old. However you spin it, that isn't a young team and Mexico could've easily lost by more.
For Tuesday's game, Miguel Layun, Nestor Araujo, Ochoa and Raul Jimenez are unavailable after traveling back to Europe and we will see a better reflection of what Mexico has coming up through the ranks. Queretaro's Hiram Mier has also made the long trip to Mendoza to be added to the squad, which can't have been to the liking of Gallos Blancos coach Rafael Puente.
"We have to reassess certain things, we have to give opportunities to players with different characteristics," said Ferretti after Friday's game. "I think we'll see a very different game than we saw today."
Ferretti is set to change things up substantially and the likes of Edson Alvarez, Erick Aguirre, Gerardo Arteaga, Victor Guzman, Roberto Alvarado and Angel Zaldivar could all start.
The Brazilian will be desperate -- even if he doesn't say it publicly -- for Mexico to end his spell in charge with a win and especially if he does use the youngsters that the 64-year-old has said will make up the bulk of El Tri's squad at the next World Cup.
Ferretti was the popular choice to become the full-time boss, but this mini-spell in charge has done little to encourage the idea that the 64-year-old was the right choice and in some ways the hole Juan Carlos Osorio left with his meticulous planning for national team camps has been felt.
For Argentina, it's a similar situation in terms of shifting the starting XI up from the first game, with the local press predicting a line-up including Geronimo Rulli, Emanuel Mammana, Juan Foyth, Nicolas Tagliafico; Rodrigo De Paul, Rodrigo Ascacibar, Franco Vazquez, Franco Cervi; Erik Lamela, Mauro Icardi and Giovanni Simeone.
The obvious difference on the benches is that Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is still in with a shot at the full-time job and, after one positive result in Cordoba, will hope another victory over El Tri on Tuesday will be enough to clinch further his case.
Ticket sales have once again been slow, with organizers allowing Under-12s in for free and discounting the prices at the 42,000-capacity Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.
Mexico's hope is that Martino -- surely watching on -- will get a positive sense of the El Tri youngsters he'll be charged with molding into national team regulars.