Tata Martino is well aware that he’s in a peculiar position.
“I know where I was born,” the Mexico coach told reporters on the eve of Saturday’s monumental showdown with his native Argentina.
“I’ll tell you the year, the name of the hospital, the city’s area code. But I have to do everything possible for Mexico to win.”
And to do that, he needs to stop Lionel Messi, a man he previously coached at Barcelona.
“The best footballer of the last 15 years, at least,” Martino declared. “When it comes to stopping him, it’s more often because he’s having a bad afternoon than what the opposition does.”
Messi can ill-afford a bad afternoon at the Lusail Stadium. His World Cup legacy is on the line.
There can be no excuses. This is arguably the best – or at least the most united – Argentina side he’s ever played.
They had arrived in Qatar on a 36-game unbeaten run. The all-time international record was within their grasp.
And yet they opened their campaign with a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia – a team 48th places below them in the world rankings.
As shocks go, it was right up there with the biggest in World Cup history.