Mexican winger Hirving “Chucky” Lozano. Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

Leave nothing to chance.

That statement may be painfully cliché, but it’s something that the players from the Mexican National Team should have taken to heart as early as the first half of their opening game against Poland on Nov. 22, when they played aggressive, controlled possession and had countless shots at goal.

One could say that El Tri’s downfall began as early as the second half of that match. The game against Poland ended in a scoreless draw, and it was downhill after that.

Sure, Mexico won against Saudi Arabia, 2-1, on Wednesday, Nov. 30. But the victory was mostly meaningless, considering that Mexico has been eliminated in the group stages anyway, a first since 1978, when it failed to win a single match in a group that included Tunisia, West Germany and — yes — Poland.

Even Gerardo “Tata” Martino, the Mexican National Team’s erstwhile coach — he stepped down as soon as the game against the Saudis was over — admitted as much, that the match against Poland in the opener might have been the turning point for Mexico in the tournament.

“It could be said that we did not maintain the rhythm and the great form we displayed in the first half of the match against Poland,” Martino said in the post-game press conference after the win against Saudi Arabia. “In that game we played a superior first half, and we could not sustain it. We couldn’t sustain it, and perhaps immediate adjustments should have been made.”

But instead of improving and stepping up their game in their second match, a match against third-ranked Argentina and the great Lionel Messi, the Mexicans even played worse and lost, 2-0.

(An aside: Argentina is the ultimate example of leaving nothing to chance. After dropping their first game in a shocking upset loss to the Saudis, the Argentinians doubled down and won the next two games in convincing fashion, showing their championship pedigree.)

And so in the game against Saudi Arabia, when the Mexicans needed to score at least three goals to advance to the knockout stages, they played like a dog backed into a corner — with surprising ferocity and urgency, and with bite. At the half the score was 0-0, but when the second half started, the Saudis found themselves contending with a barrage of goals from a seemingly rejuvenated Mexican squad — as many as four, although two were eventually invalidated.

But the desperate push by the Mexicans also led to a goal by Salem Al Dawsari of Saudi Arabia in the fifth minute of stoppage time, as their overly aggressive focus on offense left the Mexicans vulnerable on defense.

That goal tipped the balance in Poland’s favor, and sent it to the knockout round instead of Mexico.

In a perfect world, you try to make your own luck — El Tri coming into the game needing to score three goals was an unnecessary distraction for the players. The Mexican players thinking about the results of the Poland-Argentina match, the outcome of which would decide if they would play at least an extra game against France, instead of going home, was another distraction.

The players from the Polish National Team, who had likewise left their fate to chance — especially after losing to Argentina by two goals only minutes before the Mexico-Saudi Arabia game ended — were forced to figure in a game of comical, but equally agonizing, scoreboard watching.

“It was dreadful, awful and wonderful,” Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny said, when it was apparent that Mexico couldn’t win on goal differential. “The game lasted about five hours for me.”

Speaking of goal differential, going into the final match in the group stage, Mexico obviously needed more than a win — it had to improve its goal differential. That meant scoring more goals against the Saudis, or hoping that Argentina would bury Poland in more.

In other words, that meant hoping against hope, leaving everything to chance.

Poland, this time, got the luck of the draw.

Mexico wasn’t as fortunate.

This statement may be painfully cliché, but it’s something that the Mexican National Team should have taken to heart:

Leave nothing to chance.

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