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All keen World Cup watchers are familiar with Mexico qualifying through the group stage before going out at the last 16 stage. Remarkably this exact thing has happened seven tournaments in row. However, El Tri are possibly in their most fragile state going into a World Cup Finals for some time.
Mexico still rely on the old guard to be their most influential players. Andres Guardado has just become Mexico’s record appearance maker with 178 caps, but still provides the main platform for Mexico to play. Raul Jimenez is the first choice central forward, but not only is the Wolves man nursing an injury, he also hasn’t scored from open play for Mexico since December 2019. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa is also in his late 30s and coming off a couple of poor seasons in domestic football.
Not that Poland are full of youthful potential either. Obviously 34-year-old Robert Lewandowski will continue to lead the line for the Poles, but defensive rock Kamil Glik is also 34 and now playing in Serie B, Grzegorz Krychowiak is 32 and Kamil Grosicki, 34. The difference is that the Poles do have a few more peak age and young players pushing for a place to replace the experienced campaigners. The manager — although doubts surround him too — has changed the shape of the team to allow Glik to be covered by the promising pair of Jakub Kiwior and Nicola Zalewski. This also allows Matty Cash to be more attacking at right wing-back.
There is more depth in midfield and attacking positions for Poland as well. Piotr Zielinski is having an incredible season with Napoli and Arkadiusz Milik, Karol Swiderski, and Krzysztof Piatek have all scored goals for their clubs this season and provide greater depth than most nations can muster in the forward areas. Using three central defenders could allow Czeslaw Michniewicz to be more fluid in attack and get as many talented players in those areas as possible.
Mexico’s squad contains four players that have over 100 caps. El Tri have won at least one World Cup Finals match every time they have qualified since 1978. Raul Jimenez is Mexico’s top scorer in 2022, but all three goals have come from penalties. Edson Alvarez is the Mexican’s man to watch for a card receiving three yellows so far this year.
Lewandowski’s international numbers may not quite match his ridiculous club scoring record, but are far beyond anything Poland has ever seen. The Barcelona striker now has 76 goals in 134 caps, a ratio of 0.57. However, it is worth watching out for Karol Swiderski. The Charlotte FC man has a better scoring rate than Lewandowski this year with 5 in 396 minutes.
There is then the small matter of who will be funnelling balls through to Poland’s goal-hungry strikers. In Piotr Zielinski, the nation have one of Europe’s best playmaker forces this campaign. The Napoli midfielder has created more chances per 90 minutes (4.13) than any other player in the Champions League in 2022/23 (a minimum of 270 minutes player, or the equivalent of three games).
For someone of Lewandowski’s scoring potential, that is a frightening prospect for any opposition defence to try and grapple with. Considering the Barca forward is the only player in Europe’s top seven leagues this season to score more than 10 goals from open play (13, even more than Erling Haaland — who has 10 exactly), Zielinski will be relishing the opportunity to thread balls into his prolific countryman.