News Analysis: Mexico’s Tata Martino marches on as hot seat gets warmer

Coaching the Mexico national soccer team is one of the most relentless jobs in sport, one that requires you to be perfect from the start and then keep getting better.

Two months before a World Cup it’s more demanding, here’s Tata Martino. Even Saturday’s 1-0 win over Peru in front of 62,729 mostly green-clad fans at the Rose Bowl is unlikely to appease his critics.

The only goal of the game came from Hirving Lozano in the 85th minute and it bounced off the keeper. But Martino will take his bright spots with him wherever he can find them.

“I’m happy, I’m excited and eager to take on the challenge of the World Cup,” said the coach after entering the post-match press conference with a big smile. “I have a positive feeling with the team in every respect.”

Meanwhile, the hot seat he’s sitting on is getting warmer and hotter. And he’s not the first Mexican whose fans are calling for his release.

“Maybe we have a very short memory,” said midfielder Andres Guardado, recalling calls for Juan Carlos Osorio’s sacking four years ago. “They yelled at Osorio to go. They criticized him for whatever.”

Before that it was Chepo de la Torre and Javier Aguirre. The only current coach to escape the vociferous wrath of Mexico’s fans and media was Miguel Herrera, whose enthusiasm for the game and his outspoken demeanor won over his critics. But even he was thrown out after a Mexican reporter accused the trainer of assaulting him in the security line at Philadelphia airport.

“At this level, as a coach, you are three defeats away from a crisis,” Osorio said ahead of his only 2018 World Cup as Mexico’s coach. “If I were in another country, maybe they would give me three defeats . In Mexico no. Probably one, and that’s it.”

Mexico's Hirving Lozano celebrates after scoring against Peru in the Rose Bowl on September 24, 2022.

Mexico’s Hirving Lozano celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game against Peru.

(Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Martino started well, going unbeaten in their first 11 games and winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But he hasn’t won a trophy since then, losing to USA in both the Gold Cup and Nations League final last year.

Mexico have leveled with Canada in World Cup qualifying with eight wins and 28 points, but they have struggled to score lately and have been ruled out three times in their last six games. The win over Peru was only their second in that span, and Mexico haven’t beaten a World Cup team in over a year.

Martino, who guided Paraguay to the World Cup quarter-finals and Atlanta United to an MLS Cup, has toughened and his tone has changed in response to the criticism. He is now hitting back at media outlets he considers unfair, and in July, when the Mexican Football Federation forced sporting director Gerardo Torrado to resign after his U-20 side failed to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, Martino reportedly sufficed protest his own resignation.

It was not accepted and Martino was told to train until the World Cup, where he will celebrate his 60th birthday two days before Mexico’s tournament opener against Poland.

The turmoil came at the worst time for Martino, who, instead of confronting fans who paid to attend an open training session at the Rose Bowl on Friday, stayed away.

“I don’t have to tell them anything,” Martino said when asked if he had a message for fans. “We are talking to the game on the pitch. It’s not me in a press conference or a player in a press conference that can feed people’s hopes, people’s dreams. You have to show that to the team with the game.”

That was not the case on Saturday, when five injured players were out who Martino expected would fuel his attack in Qatar. The lack of a real No. 9 hurt Mexico, who once again lacked creativity last third Saturday.

Peru’s World Cup hopes ended in a penalty loss to Australia in an intercontinental play-off in June, but well-organized defense frustrated El Tri in a shattered first half. Things didn’t get much better after the break; Although Mexico’s press forced Peru to concede numerous turnovers, Martino’s side failed to take advantage.

Lozano finally broke the spell when he left-footed a César Montes header from a corner kick and slammed a shot from Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese’s gloved right hand into the roof of the net just off the left post.

It was the only shot on target for both teams. 350 miles north, Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Mexico’s all-time top scorer but a player Martino has adamantly left out of his World Cup squad, scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season in the Galaxy’s 3-2 win over San Jose.

Martino, who fielded 15 players on Saturday, will have another look at his team without Chicharito when they play Colombia in Santa Clara on Tuesday. After that, he has less than two months to trim his squad down to the 26 players he will bring to Qatar.

“I haven’t spoken to any of them, especially about their guaranteed attendance at the World Cup,” he said. “There are many certainties and fewer questions. It is logical to have more certainties than doubts.”

He could say the same about his job security. News Analysis: Mexico’s Tata Martino marches on as hot seat gets warmer

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