The groups are now officially set for the 2022 World Cup! During the Friday draw in Qatar, CONCACAF representatives Mexico were placed into Group C with Argentina, Poland and Saudi Arabia.
So now the questions come: Do Mexico have a chance to emerge out of the group stage? Will manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino and his men reach the mythical "quinto partido" and get to a quarterfinal for the first time ever in a World Cup not on home soil?
Let's dive into Group C and El Tri's opponents.
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What to expect for Mexico in the group stage
The opening match against Poland could make or break Mexico. On paper, Argentina are the favorites within the four, likely leaving Mexico or Poland to fight for second place.
Led by 2021 Ballon d'Or runner-up Robert Lewandowski, one of El Tri's most daunting challenges in the group stage will be an effort to silence the Bayern Munich player who is arguably the best striker in the world. That said, Poland aren't nearly as threatening in other areas of their XI and entered the tournament through the UEFA playoffs after being unable to top their qualification group. A change in management before the playoffs also indicates that this team could be a work-in-progress.
After potentially surviving a battle against a Ballon d'Or contender, Mexico will take on Lionel Messi, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, in their second game against Argentina. Unlike Poland, Argentina have a much more well-rounded roster and will be expected to lead Group C. For El Tri, there's a sense of revenge in this matchup after being pushed out of the round of 16 by the South American powerhouse in the 2010 and 2006 editions of the World Cup.
Last, but definitely not least, will be Herve Renard's Saudi Arabia. Although they appear to be the easiest opponent for Mexico on paper, Saudi Arabia recently topped their respective group in the Asian Football Confederation's final qualifying round with seven wins and two draws in 10 matches. As for Renard, the French manager is well-versed in helping underdogs in the World Cup after previously leading Morocco to an impressive 2-2 draw with Spain and a narrow 1-0 loss to Portugal in the 2018 edition of the tournament.
Where Mexico should finish
Second place is absolutely within reach here. Barring an unanticipated victory over Argentina, what will probably define their position in the table will be the battle against Poland in their World Cup opener. Despite the fact that there's nobody within El Tri's setup that is at the level of a Lewandowski, Mexico's most talented names should still be able to go toe-to-toe with the European squad.
A draw or a loss in that first game would make things much more challenging. Poland will close out the group stage against an Argentina side that might take their foot off the gas after potentially earning a couple of victories over Saudi Arabia and Mexico. Barring a slip-up for Argentina or some stunning wins for Saudi Arabia, Mexico will need to hit the ground running against Poland in order to make their path to the knockout round an uncomplicated one.
All that said, El Tri have regularly shown in the past that they're able to be greater than the sum of their parts on the biggest stage (let's not forget their 1-0 group stage win over Germany in 2018), and with plenty of veterans within their roster, it isn't out of the question for them to also potentially shut down Argentina.
Can El Tri reach the "quinto partido" or go even further in 2022?
The quinto partido, or "fifth game," has become a mythical target for Mexican men's soccer. With seven previous World Cup appearances and seven consecutive exits in the round of 16, reaching the fifth game has turned into a near-obsessive objective.
There's a lot to like about Martino's team that contains Europe-based elite players within the setup like Raul Jimenez, Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, Hirving "Chucky" Lozano and Edson Alvarez. In net, Club America's Guillermo Ochoa has become a living highlight reel when it comes to World Cup performances, and he's shown no signs of slowing down at 36 years of age.
Herculez Gomez debates whether Mexico fans have any reason to be optimistic heading into the 2022 World Cup.
If they finish second in Group C, they'll then take on the winners of Group D, likely France or Denmark. If they somehow finish first in Group C, they'll then have an encounter with the runners-up of Group D, which might be Denmark, Tunisia or the winner of the AFC vs. CONMEBOL playoff.
Avoiding France would put Mexico in a fantastic spot to finally make it to the quinto partido for the first time since 1986. El Tri have only reached this position twice, both involving World Cups that Mexico have hosted in 1986 and 1970. It might be unthinkable to imagine them at the quarterfinals once again, but it was also just as unthinkable a few years back when they shocked the globe with their win over Germany.
Mexico and El Tri might have had a few hiccups in their road to Qatar that featured several low-scoring draws and narrow wins in qualifying, but at their best, they should be able to finally clinch that coveted fifth game ... and beyond.