Mexico closes out 2018 with loss but midfielders give hope for future
MENDOZA, Argentina - Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala netted their first goals for Argentina to clinch a 2-0 win for La Albiceleste against Mexico on Tuesday in Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.
Here are three quick takes as both sides' last game of 2018:
1. Tuca's reign with El Tri ends with a loss
It's been a tough FIFA international break for Mexico boss Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti and a difficult interim period in charge. The loss makes it seven losses in eight games for Mexico and five in Ferretti's six matches. That wasn't what he would've hoped for, even if giving youngsters was the priority after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Mexico simply lacked overall quality on Tuesday, aside from midfielders Erick Gutierrez (23 years old), Erick Aguirre (21) and perhaps defenders Edson Alvarez (21) and Gerardo Arteaga (20). Those four gave reason to believe they have a future in the national team, but it's going to be a long road to them establishing themselves and competing with the likes of Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno and Miguel Layun.
Against an Argentina side that had been radically changed from the first 2-0 loss of this mini-series last Friday in Cordoba, Mexico took the ball from the home team, stroked it around nicely at times, but failed to really make inroads. Crossing into the box for diminutive striker Henry Martin to compete with Ramiro Funes Mori and Walter Kannemann never really looked like reaping rewards for the visitors.
To be fair to Mexico, after Icardi had netted early in the second minute, this was a difficult task and Mexico wasn't overawed by the occasion or the quality of the opposition. Mexico competed, but it just wasn't enough, especially upfront, where Argentina looked much more dangerous.
Mexico didn't really have any chances of note in the first half, not managing a shot on goal until the 69th minute, despite enjoying 60 percent of possession.
In the second half, Henry Martin could've won a penalty, Jesus Gallardo forced a sharp save from substitute goalkeeper and Mexico did threaten to score, before Dybala's 87th counter-attacking goal sealed the win for the home side.
Mexico's record this year is dismal, with the one standout result the victory over Germany at its opening World Cup game. Of 16 games, Mexico has 9 losses, six victories and one draw.
With the logistical problems during this trip to Argentina and unrest amongst the established players, it feels almost like a relief that the full national team's year is now over.
It's time for Mexico to turn the page on 2018, hope Gerardo "Tata" Martino's pending appointment is confirmed and that the 56-year-old can provide a boost to a program that doesn't look too sure of itself right now.
2. Scaloni boosts Argentina national team chances
The narrative heading into these games between Mexico and Argentina often sought to point out the similarities between the situations of the two sides. Both came into the November games without a permanent head coach and without the star names. Where Javier Hernandez and Herrera were missing for Mexico, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero were absent for Argentina.
But one of the differences was that Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni still has a shot at being named the full-time coach -- at least until after the 2019 Copa America -- while Ferretti had already acknowledged that his was a temporary gig.
For Scaloni, things have gone better than even he could've expected. Players like Dybala Lautaro Martinez and Icardi have talked positively about him. There's goodwill from the public and a reconnection with fans that could be seen when the team arrived at the hotel in Mendoza the night before Tuesday's game
And there's the results -- four wins, a loss and a draw -- as well as Icardi and Dybala finally scoring their first goals with the national team and getting that monkey off their backs. It's given some justified belief that the post-Messi era in Argentina has plenty of potential.
If the Argentine football association really is struggling for candidates after failing to persuade the likes of Martino and Marcelo Gallardo, then the intelligent Scaloni has done his chances of landing the job no harm at all.
3. Mexico's midfield gives reason to hope
The problems that Martino will inherit with Mexico are multiple: bridging the divide with the experienced core of players, managing a generational chance and attempting to lift the quality of a country whose player pool isn't close to that of the world superpowers.
But there are positives and watching Aguirre and Gutierrez compete in midfield against Argentina and take possession off the home team in the first half was a positive. PSV Eindhoven midfielder Gutierrez came off at half-time and is better known, but Aguirre hasn't played many games of this quality and showed he has the pedigree to step up during the 90 minutes.
Aguirre shielded the defense well until El Tri opened up looking for the equalizer, was intelligent in shutting down space and used the ball well. The Pachuca player usually plays on the wing for his club side, but holding midfield is surely his position moving forward.
On another difficult night for Mexico, the Guiterrez-Aguirre axis was a positive, although it as a shame Victor Guzman didn't show the same kind of form he has in Liga MX this season.