While victory is expected by those inside and outside of El Tri’s camp, the manager says laying the groundwork for 2022 is more important
Mexico has one focus in tomorrow’s Gold Cup final.
Ask forward Raul Jimenez: “Well, tomorrow I think all we want is to win. To have the cup at the end of the game. We’re in good form. We’re recovered now from the other two games and we know what we’re playing for. At the end, we want to win.”
Ask goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa: “Tomorrow we’re going to do what we want to do, make sure all the effort and commitment and sacrifice we’ve made is worth it.”
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The goal is the same for manager Tata Martino as well. The Mexico coach feels his team is obligated to win the Gold Cup by beating the United States.
“(The obligation) doesn’t change. I’ve seen a lot of Gold Cups and I know that Mexico is obligated to win. We’ve never hidden Mexico’s responsibility,” he said at a news conference Saturday. “We got here and we’re still backing that. We’re in the final and we’re still going.
“But I think also you have to look at the full context a little bit, beyond the fact that it would be a big disappointment not to win the cup. We also know we have to keep moving forward, getting better because maybe the most important goal, yes, is a bit more long-term.”
What if Mexico doesn’t win?
For Martino, it wouldn’t be a crisis. He knows he’d have to deal with a fair bit of blow-back, of chatter in the press, of frustration and fury from fans. Yet, Martino says the focus is further down the road than Sunday’s rivalry matchup against the U.S national team. Asked about whether he’d be prepared to cope with a loss, the manager said the furor will happen no matter what. What matters is the response as the team builds toward the 2022 World Cup.
“In whatever situation you lose, what happens in the environment is what you mentioned is going to happen, but it’s fine,” he said. “In this tournament, there are how many teams, 12? (There are 16.) And there are 11 that have to be ready to lose, one to win. That’s why I’m saying I’m talking about different goals: One, undoubtedly, is to win because that’s why we’re here – to win – but also with the five or six months we’ve had leading the national team there are other secondary goals that we can never lose sight of because it involves a four-year process. You have to work with the close-up view but also the long-term view.
It’s interesting to hear Martino speak about taking the long view. He’s a coach who hasn’t often stayed long in jobs, and he’s in a position where coaches haven’t often stayed long. He returned to the international game for the change of pace, looking to spend more time with family and to have a less frustrating daily grind than he did coaching a club like Atlanta United. Martino seems pleased with the first half-year of his tenure and confident he can continue to get what he wants out of the team with the resources he has.
He’s also expressed the idea now on multiple occasions that while he would’ve preferred to have typical stars such as Carlos Vela, Hector Herrera and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez for this tournament run, the minutes that have fallen to young players with those veterans not in the squad will be helpful down the road.
“Above all, those guys who are playing their first matches with the senior national team have been at the level this tournament is. It’s not easy to find yourself as a first-timer and suddenly be in the Gold Cup,” Martino said.
Roberto Alvarado, Edson Alvarez, Uriel Antuna, Carlos Rodriguez and others have pulled their weight in this tournament and will be in the mix for World Cup qualification as well. Diego Lainez and Jose Juan Macias took part in the U-20 World Cup but also have a future with the senior team in the near-term. Mexico needs that. Even the players who are present, players like Ochoa, midfielder Andres Guardado and center back Hector Moreno will be well into the back end of their careers when the next World Cup rolls around.
“We believe that in a tournament like the Gold Cup, we can try to pin down an idea, have young players available for tomorrow to be in the senior national team and also we’re here to win it,” the coach said. “There are several goals, and not all of them are reduced to what can happen tomorrow at the end of the match.”
The focus is singular, but the goals are many. Mexico will give its all to win the Gold Cup tomorrow, but if it doesn’t lift the trophy, it will turn its head toward the next challenge. There are many on the horizon.