CORDOBA, Argentina — A goal from Ramiro Funes Mori and an own goal from Isaac Brizuela secured a 2-0 win for Argentina against Mexico on Friday in Estadio Mario Kempes in the first of two games between the sides this international break.
Here are three talking points:
1. Mexico forced to adapt in rare road match
Mexico interim boss Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti has regularly been talking up the need for the Mexican national team to play these kinds of more difficult away games. But as the “Mexican” wave went around the stadium in the the 33rd minute of Friday’s game, it was already clear that this type of friendly in South America is a long way from the hostile World Cup qualifiers that CONMEBOL teams face. A band entertained the crowd at half-time and fireworks proceeded the match.
In other words, this wasn’t some kind of anti-Mexican cauldron; it was very much a friendly. Mexico’s players face much more difficult places to go in their domestic leagues.
The real worth of these kinds of games could be seen in the play. Argentina had to go out and take the initiative in front of their own fans and that shaped the way Mexico had to approach the game. Ferretti adapted and played a more pragmatic style of football.
Ferretti used the opportunity to experiment with a 4-3-1-2 formation in the first half, shifting to a back three after the break. And even though the Brazilian won’t be the permanent coach, it’s much more useful to see the changes and how they function when you have players of the calibre of Lautaro Martinez, Paulo Dybala and Angel Correa coming at you.
You don’t often get those conditions playing at “home” in the United States or in Mexico. In that sense, the first tilt of this double-header against Argentina during the international break has been a success, despite Friday’s result.
There’s no way of replicating the conditions of a World Cup knockout game, but it helps Mexico to play these types of friendlies to do something different.
2. Dybala’s goal wait rolls on
The Copa Libertadores final between Superclasico rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors has naturally been the talk of Argentina in these last few days, overshadowing the build-up to Friday’s game. But when it has been mentioned, a lot of the attention in Cordoba has centered around local hero Dybala.
A product of Instituto de Cordoba, the crowd roared when the 25-year-old Juventus star’s name was read out ahead of the game and it was clear that he’s a popular figure in these parts.
In his 18th game for Argentina, Friday was supposed to be the night Dybala ended his goal-scoring drought for his country and netted his first goal in an Argentina shirt.
But it didn’t come. There was an assist for Funes Mori’s opening goal, a lofted shot just after halftime that went just over the crossbar and some pretty touches, but no goal.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni kept Dybala on the pitch for 72 minutes, but the moment the crowd was waiting for didn’t happen, although he was applauded warmly as he exited the game.
Dybala hasn’t had much luck with the national team in general. Twenty-two goals in 33 games for Juventus last season points to a player at the top of his game, but his comment about it being difficult to play with Lionel Messi didn’t endear him to fans and he is yet to fully establish himself with La Albiceleste.
It was another one of those frustrating nights in an Argentina shirt for Dybala, whose face has so far no seemed to fit.
3. Mexico struggle to contain Argentina’s attack
Ferretti has stressed that performances and processes are more important than immediate results for Mexico in the post-Russia 2018 order, but as he raged against decisions towards the end of Friday’s loss, it was clear that the loss hurt.
It perhaps hurt more because the scoreline reflected the balance of play. If not for a couple of smart saves from Guillermo Ochoa in the first half, this could’ve been worse for Mexico.
Mexico’s best moment came in the 2nd minute, when Raul Jimenez headed against the bar and Marco Fabian went clean through on goal only to see Argentina goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin save his shot.
Ferretti tested a 4-3-1-2 formation in the first half and a back five after the break and Mexico did have periods of possession, but not much in the way of cutting edge.
That was perhaps likely even beforehand. Argentina fielded Dybala, Martinez, Correa and Marco Acuna. It was a team that looks threatening on paper, although Mexico did reasonably well to keep the hosts at bay until the opening goal.
Funes Mori latched onto a free-kick sent into the penalty area by Dybala to open the scoring in the 44th minute. Once again, Mexico conceded from a set piece, something an incoming coach — most likely Gerardo Martino — will have to work on fixing.
There wasn’t much true intensity from either side and the usual waves of substitutions slowed the game down in the second half. There wasn’t a gulf in class, but it was clear that the home side was the better team.
It was a disappointing display from Mexico, although it’s difficult to judge either side too much when key players are missing and neither has a permanent coach.