El Tri’s Gold Cup group perfection worth plenty

first_imgMexico didn’t have the strongest close to its group stage.El Tri manager Tata Martino was fuming after his team topped Martinique by just a goal. That’s understandable. The manager holds his team to a higher standard than simply results. The performance on the field wasn’t up to par for what we usually see from Mexico and certainly not what the team has shown early in the Martino era.A team with a mix of professional players and amateurs pushed El Tri nearly to the brink, putting a scare in the region’s biggest power. While fans aren’t necessarily at their panic stations, morale is suddenly at the lowest point it has been since Martino took charge in January. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? Yet, getting out of the group with three victories is nothing to sneeze at. Mexico has done it just once before at the Gold Cup, with Chepo de la Torre guiding the team past a tough group that included the base of a Costa Rica team that would go on to the World Cup quarterfinals three years later and an El Salvador squad not yet rocked by a match manipulation scandal.It’s not common for Mexico or any other team to roll through the group with only victories. Before Mexico this year, the United States was the last team to do it. That was back in 2013, ages ago for a tournament contested every two years. In addition to El Tri, Jamaica also got through its group unscathed in 2011. The Americans also got three wins in 2007, the second tournament in which Concacaf used four-team groups.The historic accomplishment may be diminished with the fact that Concacaf expanded the tournament, adding four more teams for this edition. After all, the door also is open for Panama or the United States to also go through with nine points on the final day of group play.  But Mexico’s group featuring Canada, a former champion, Martinique and Cuba are hardly Gold Cup newcomers and it’s the only one in which every team will take part in League A of the Concacaf Nations League. The other thing to consider is how Martino was able to use the group stage to prepare his team well for the knockouts. In the build-up to the tournament, it looked like Mexico would reach the knockouts with a team hard-hit by injuries. Now, with the exception of Erick Gutierrez, it seems everyone is fresh.Martino has a healthy group and a well-defined starting XI that also can lean on players to come in as substitutes and make a difference after big performances in the group stages. No player is a better example of that than Uriel Antuna, who scored four goals and had an excellent assist in the group stage after nearly missing out on the roster. It’s not just the LA Galaxy attacker, though. Carlos Rodriguez and Jonathan dos Santos are essentially even at the right interior midfielder slot. Fernando Navarro proved himself a capable back-up at right back. With Rodolfo Pizarro and Hector Moreno back to full fitness, they should slot into the lineup and bring their skills and experience to a Mexico team that already includes plenty.That said, the margin for error is now slim. Lay a dud against Costa Rica on Saturday, and the tournament is over. “This isn’t something we might have hidden since before starting the tournament. We’ve always said it, and nothing changes,” Martino said of the team’s goal to win the entire tournament. “The important thing is characteristics and the form the team will have in matches where when it’s over you go or you stay. We’re going to see it from the quarterfinals. Nothing that happened today has to do with what can happen in the future in any way.”Well, in some ways it does. Mexico has built up toward the knockout stage with good results. It has continued to add to its winning streak. It has seen things it needs to correct and has nearly a week to correct those things.Martino is right that none of that will matter if Mexico doesn’t lift the trophy. The 2011 team is remembered for its pressure-packed win in the final at the Rose Bowl, not anything that happened while it was jockeying for knockout round positioning. But it’s worth taking a step back from the nail-biting finish against a Martinique team Mexico should’ve had an easier time against to recognize that as a whole the grop stage was what Mexico needed. Now it needs to move on to the next stage and prove it’s the team to beat in the region.last_img

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