With the 2022 World Cup just five months away, Uruguay, ranked 13th in the world by FIFA, soundly defeated Mexico, ranked ninth, 3-0 in a friendly match in Phoenix last Thursday. Although the game was played at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a home game for Mexico.
Driving towards the stadium it seemed every other car was proudly displaying the green, white and red flag of Mexico. Inside the stadium was probably the most green you’ll ever see in the Valley, with the vast majority of the 57,000 in attendance donning the green kits of El Tri.
That didn’t matter to the Uruguayan players, who made Mexico look a rather average side on Thursday evening. Although the match was just a friendly, with such few chances to assess the squads before the start of the World Cup in November, both coaches opted for strong lineups in this game.
Each side featured players from some of Europe’s finest clubs, despite the fact that 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 prior 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.
Not one minute into the game the Mexican fans, essentially the entire stadium, had 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 well in the opening minutes looking for holes in the Mexican defense, but Mexico held strong, dominating possession in its own half.
Although they had less of the ball to start, Uruguay continually pressured the Mexican 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 was, however, outdone by cheering every time El Tri advanced the ball up the field. As the Mexican attack broke forward everyone in the crowd would suddenly rise onto their feet to help push their team toward goal.
As the game went on the crowd had fewer and fewer opportunities to leap to their feet as the Uruguayan pressure held Mexico to just two shots in the first half.
Uruguay on the other hand continued to press the Mexican goal until finally, they broke through in the 35th minute. An Uruguay corner found the head of Edison Cavani who sent a bullet of a header right at the Mexican keeper Talavera, who could only parry it back into the box where it was tapped in by Inter Milan midfielder Matias Vecino.
El Tri would have a chance to equalize before the half as they found Jimenez on the left side of the box with just the keeper to beat, but much to the disappointment of the crowd he blew the shot off to the right, not even forcing a save out of the Uruguayan keeper Rochet.
The Mexico fans were once again quiet as the teams headed back into the locker room at the half. Things would get no better for the fans from there as Uruguay scored in the first minute of the second half.
Right after kick-off midfielder Facundo Pellistri was found on the right wing, he then shrugged off his defender and whipped a lovely 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 manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s halftime speech, they found themselves two-nil down.
The game was quite physical; with Mexico committing 18 fouls the fans had plenty of opportunities to let the referee know what they were thinking, and they took advantage of every one.
The physicality of the game was not working to Mexico’s benefit though, as the fouling led to more Uruguay possession which forced Mexico into a much more counter-attacking style of play. They found some success through the pace and creative dribbling of Jesus Corona on the right-wing but any chance he created was then swallowed up by the back-line of Uruguay.
Ten minutes into the second half Uruguay would cement its win with a third goal, again courtesy of Cavani. Damien Suarez, who subbed on at right-back for the injured Barcelona defender Ronald Araujo, found himself in space on the right side then sent the ball into the top of the box where a wide-open Cavani would take the shot first-time and bury into the bottom left corner past Talavera.
Many players would’ve taken a touch in his position, but Cavani didn’t need one, placing the ball perfectly into the corner straight off of the cross. From there Uruguay would hold its lead, efficiently snuffing any breaks into their half by Mexico for the remainder of the game and winning by a final score of 3-0.
"The reality is, we're not ready," Martino said postgame regarding the World Cup. "In the first half, the team played well. Later, Uruguay played very well. We had two scoring opportunities (in the first half). The first half was even," Martino later added.
What started as a buzzing and lively crowd was left defeated as their side were soundly defeated by a classy Uruguay performance. The loudest the crowd got in the second half was when fan-favorite Hector Herrera, who is headed to Major League Soccer, entered the game. Otherwise, there wasn’t much for the fans to cheer for after going down by two.
Although the performance did not meet their expectations, the fans still came out in full-force to support Mexico, a familiar scene in the Valley.
Last summer Mexico faced off against Honduras in the same stadium in front of a sell-out crowd, again almost entirely made up of Mexican supporters. There is a huge Mexican population in Phoenix and for many, the only chance they get to see their national team play is when they come to town, so anytime Mexico plays in the Valley it’s a big attraction.
"In reality, Phoenix, Dallas, all the cities in the United States where we play, we like going there because there are many people from Mexico living here in the United States," Martino said. "We're practically always the home team with our tradition and what it represents. We always love to come here. This is a comfort zone for us."
While the fans made the Mexican national team at home, Uruguay were certainly the more comfortable side on the pitch, leaving Mexico to re-focus ahead of its next match in Chicago against Ecuador. Uruguay will also head to the Midwest for its next game against the United States in Kansas City.