GLENDALE – With the 2022 World Cup just five months away, friendly matches are about more than the competition. They can let a team know how prepared it is for soccer’s biggest stage.
That was the case Thursday when Mexico, ranked ninth in the world by FIFA, ran into a determined 13th-ranked Uruguay team and fell 3-0 at State Farm Stadium.
“The reality is, we’re not ready,” Mexico coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino said said to media afterward in Spanish.
This year’s World Cup in Qatar will take place in the winter rather than summer due to Qatar’s hot temperatures. The next World Cup is set for North America, with the United States, Canada and Mexico hosting matches, meaning all three nations receive automatic berths for the competition.
For now, both Mexico and Uruguay will do their best to improve in each of their final games in hopes of a deep run this winter.
Mexico has three more matches scheduled before the start of the World Cup. Uruguay has one planned before it kicks off its World Cup campaign against South Korea.
Thursday’s game must have felt like a home match for Mexico. Outside the stadium, numerous cars displayed the green, white and red flag of the country. Inside the stadium, the majority of the 57,000 in attendance donned the green kits of El Tri.
That didn’t matter to the Uruguayan players, who made Mexico look average Thursday evening. Although the match was just a friendly, with such few chances to assess the squads before the start of the World Cup, both coaches opted for strong lineups in this game.
Each side featured players from some of Europe’s finest clubs, although many players just finished their club season in mid- to late May.
Uruguay started Edison Cavani, who plays for Manchester United in the English first division, along with Federico Valverde of Real Madrid, who just five days earlier won the Champions League Final. Valverde attended the celebratory parade in Madrid the next day before flying 16 hours to Phoenix for this game, in which he played the full 90 minutes. Mexico started star striker Raul Jimenez, who also plays in the English first division, as well as Jesus Corona, who plays for Sevilla in Spain’s top division.
Less than a minute into the game, Mexico’s fans already broken out their signature wave. As the wave continued around the stadium, boos rained down from the stands with every Uruguayan touch on the ball. Unfazed, the players worked the ball around in the opening minutes looking for holes in the defense, but Mexico held strong, dominating possession in its own half.
Although they had less of the ball to start, Uruguay continually pressured Mexico’s defense, which eventually culminated in a trio of chances in the 13th minute, the last of which was struck by Valverde and hit the post, temporarily silencing the crowd.
That silence when Uruguay attacked,however, was outdone by cheering every time El Tri advanced the ball up the field. As Mexico’s attack broke forward, fans would suddenly rise onto their feet to help push their team toward goal.
Uruguay continued to press Mexico’s goal until finally, they broke through in the 35th minute. An Uruguay corner found Edison Cavani, who sent a bullet of a header right at Mexican keeper Talavera, who could only parry it back into the box where it was tapped in by Inter Milan midfielder Matias Vecino.
“The way that goal came in was on an error,” Martino said postgame. “It was an important initial error. With the header, we didn’t jump. We can’t give them those opportunities.”
Mexico’s fans were once again quiet as the teams headed back into the locker room at the half. Things would get no better from there as Uruguay scored in the first minute of the second half.
Right after kickoff, midfielder Facundo Pellistri shrugged off his defender and whipped an on-target cross into the box which found Uruguay’s main man in the middle, Edison Cavani, who had a simple tap in from there to double the lead for La Celeste.
Mexico looked stagnant, and minutes after hearing Martino’s halftime speech, they found themselves down 2-0.
Ten minutes into the second half, Uruguay would cement its win with a third goal, again courtesy of Cavani. Damien Suarez, who subbed at right-back for injured Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo, found himself in space on the right side and then sent the ball into the top of the box where a wide-open Cavani took the shot and buried it into the bottom left corner past Talavera.
“In the first half, the team played well,” Martino said. “Later, Uruguay played very well. We had two scoring opportunities (in the first half). The first half was even.”
Although the performance did not meet their expectations, Mexico still has time to improve before this year’s World Cup, and there were some positives to draw from the game.
Even though the score line might not have reflected it, neither coach thought Mexico was thoroughly outplayed.
“They played better than us in a few instances,” Uruguay coach Diego Alonso said postgame. “I think what we did today was that we played great. It’s not that Mexico didn’t play well.”
Although many were quick to criticize Martino for the performance, he managed to stay positive while still addressing the issues in the squad.
“Against the big rivals, we have not competed badly,” Martino said. “We have done well until we commit the errors that those top teams don’t commit, or they achieve things that we cannot achieve. That’s when the score gets to one side. We don’t respond to that.”