On April 1, the draw was made to define the groups for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, drawing the first outlines of what promises to be a World Cup with room for surprises, rivalries, and spectacle, right from the first phase. The United States will once again face Iran, in a match with obvious political overtones; Spain and Germany will clash in a decisive match for their aspirations; Brazil will kick off against the tough Serbia team.
What about Mexico?
The Aztec national team will face a very spicy group. They will debut against Poland, reliving the painful memories of that June 10, 1978, when the “Gigante de Arroyito” witnessed the Europeans’ 3-1 victory that sealed perhaps Mexico’s worst participation in a World Cup, especially considering the enormous expectations with which they arrived at that competition.
In total, Mexico and Poland have met 9 times: 3 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats for each team. Ironically, the Mexicans’ last loss to the Poles was precisely in that fateful match in World Cup 78. Today, 44 years later, Poland has one of the best generations in its recent history. It is true that they failed miserably at last year’s European Championship, but the Poles are an opponent to be respected.
The last match of the first round will be against Saudi Arabia, which theoretically arrives in the role of victim. In 5 matches at senior national team level, Mexico has 4 wins and only one draw against the Saudis, although the last time they met was literally last century; on July 25, 1999, with a Mexican victory by 5 goals to 1.
Mexico vs. Messi
And right in the middle of the first phase, Mexico will face the most complicated match of its World Cup adventure, against Messi’s Argentina. An Argentina that accompanies and shelters the best player of all time. The Messi of magic and passion, the Lionel who is capable of transforming any match with a touch of genius that seems to come out of a video game; and who, in his last World Cup, is going all out to lift the cup that will finally make it clear, before the eyes of the world and history, that Messi is on a par with Maradona, and even higher.
Argentina has a history with Mexico. 35 matches, including 14 wins for the Albiceleste against only 5 Mexican victories, the last of them in the 2004 Copa América. Argentina has been the daily tormentor of the Aztecs. They beat Mexico in the final of the 1993 Copa América. And it left out of the World Cup two of the best Mexican teams, in the 2006 (with a great goal by Maxi Rodríguez) and in the 2010 edition (with the criminal help of the referee, who gave away a goal in a clear offside to Carlos Tévez and with that he unbalanced the match).
Mexico goes for the “fifth game”
At a first glance, looking at the group opponents and the mediocre performance of the Mexicans in the CONCACAF qualifiers, it would seem that qualification is an uphill climb. However, Mexico knows how to play in World Cups. Together with Brazil, it is the only team that has made it past the first round in the last seven World Cups, meeting giants such as Italy, France, Germany or Croatia, whom it has surprised, dominated and even defeated.
So no one should be confused. Let no one take the Tricolor for dead, who on several occasions have signed wobbly qualifiers, only to give their best performance on the World Cup fields. Mexico has the history and talent to beat Poland; crush Saudi Arabia; and compete with dignity against Argentina. Mexico has the history and talent to qualify for the round of 16 in Qatar 2022, for the eighth consecutive time.
And then, the famous “fifth game”?
Since 1994, Mexico has come up against an iron wall in the Round of 16. Bulgaria, Germany, the United States, Argentina (twice), the Netherlands and Brazil have all stood in the way of the Tricolor reaching the coveted “fifth game”.
In 2022, the Round of 16 will be against the members of Group D, which includes France, Denmark, Tunisia and the winner of the playoff between Peru and Australia/Arab Emirates. Logic indicates that Mexico will qualify as second in Group C, so it would face first place in Group D, which will most likely be France, a team that Mexico has defeated only once, but that occasion was just in the World Cup, in a now distant 2010.
So, the road will not be easy, but not impossible either. For now, in Qatar 2022 they will have the luxury of competing against the national team of the great Lionel Messi. Moreover, if Mexico is inspired, they have the chance to qualify and to transcend. After all, as Javier Hernandez once said: “Let’s imagine cool fucking things! And he knows something, after all, he is the top scorer of the Mexican national team.