Can Mexico’s striker worries lead to problems in Nations League?

Henry Dumas

Can Mexico’s striker worries lead to problems in Nations League?

On paper, the previous international window for Mexico’s men’s national team in October was a successful one.

In what was arguably the most difficult set of games to date for manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano, El Tri brushed past Ghana with a 2-0 win and went toe-to-toe with European powerhouse Germany in an entertaining 2-2 draw. Despite beginning both matches with slight complications in their tactical approach, the 180-plus minutes of play in October were widely seen as promising signs for a Mexico side that are aiming to build off of the success of a Concacaf Gold Cup title in the summer.

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With an aim to directly qualify for 2024’s highly anticipated Copa America through this month’s Concacaf Nations League quarterfinals, October showcased that Mexico have the firepower and depth to surpass a team like Honduras in the upcoming Nations League matches on Nov. 17 and Nov. 21.

And yet, on deeper inspection, those 180 minutes also highlighted a noteworthy flaw: a lack of goals and not a single shot on target from any of El Tri’s out-and-out strikers.

Whether it be from Fulham’s Raúl Jiménez or Feyenoord’s Santiago Giménez, who were both given one start each, or Club América’s Henry Martín off the bench, all three were left empty-handed in October’s international window. Granted, it’s a small sample size through just two friendlies, but if we then begin to consider their club forms, things get even more worrisome for Mexico.

Gimenez, who is undoubtedly set to be the next great superstar for El Tri and poised to potentially join a major European club in the near future, has notably slowed down his form before the international break. Although he’s taken the Eredivisie by storm with 13 goals in his first 12 matches, the 22-year-old has been held scoreless in his last four appearances in all competitions.

Jimenez scored for Fulham over the weekend and should also be praised for finding the back of the net three times for Mexico in September’s window, but the harsh reality is that the 32-year-old isn’t as consistent as he was before his unfortunate head injury in late 2020. Across all competitions for Fulham this season, Jimenez’s lone goal from the weekend remains as the only moment he’s scored at the club level across 13 matches.

Things are also similarly difficult for Martin with Club America. While Mexico’s No. 3 striker option has picked up his Liga MX form since October, Martin is still only averaging a goal every 209 minutes after finding the back of the net just three times in the Apertura season.

Coupled with Honduras allowing only one goal in their past five matches, should El Tri fans begin to panic about November’s two-legged series? Is there a decent possibility that Mexico lose this month, which would then leave them in a must-win Copa America qualification scenario in March’s play-in round? Realistically? Mexico will be fine.

No matter the fact that Gimenez, Martin, and Jimenez were misfiring in October, others in the midfield and on the wings were able to compensate in the final third. On the right flank, Cruz Azul winger Uriel Antuna was one of the stories of the previous international break with his two goals and assist in El Tri’s friendlies. In support, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Érick Sánchez, Luis Chávez, and César Huerta also chipped in with their impressive work rate in the attack.

We also can’t forget the new addition of Colombian-born winger Julián Quiñones, who recently gained his Mexican citizenship and earned his first-ever call-up for Mexico’s November matches. Clever with his movement and with a knack for good finishing, the 26-year-old is fully capable of becoming one of El Tri’s most important players.

But if we look back to those October games in which Mexico relied on their wingers and midfielders to step up in the absence of an impact from their strikers in the attack, those names like Quiñones, Lozano, or Antuna might not have the same space to roam as they would against more open teams like Germany and Ghana.

Honduras, who are ranked at No. 78 by FIFA in comparison to Mexico at No. 12, will likely be more than happy to sit back and park the bus. El Tri will also need to play away in the first leg at Honduras, where Mexico last earned a narrow and tense 1-0 win in 2022.

Looking to the upcoming quarterfinal series, Honduras manager Reinaldo Rueda implied in a press conference on Monday that his team won’t take many risks either.

“We’re going to — first and foremost — do the work to play an intelligent match,” said Rueda to the media. “Because we have the Concacaf champion in front of us.”

Defensive roadblock ahead for El Tri? We’ve seen that there are no guarantees that Lozano can count on his strikers for goals, and if others aren’t able to step up in what could be a complicated set of games against Honduras, qualification for the Copa America may not be a given either.

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