Wednesday’s World Cup matchup between Mexico and Saudi Arabia is a showdown between a team that has severely underwhelmed and another that has surprised.
While Mexico has looked laborious and uncomfortable through their first two matches in Qatar, Saudi Arabia has been a breath of fresh air with their upset of Argentina and a hard-luck loss to Poland.
Will Saudi Arabia pull another shocker on Wednesday afternoon?
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Saudi Arabia vs. Mexico prediction
Both Mexico and Saudi Arabia can still advance to the Round of 16, but El Tri does not control their own destiny.
While Saudi Arabia is in a win-and-in situation, Mexico needs to beat the Falcons and either hope that Poland upsets Argentina OR that Argentina beats Poland and Mexico makes up the goal differential between them and Poland. Currently, Mexico has a -2 goal differential, while Poland sits at +2.
A few days ago, Mexican fans may not feel too despondent about this scenario. Saudi Arabia was one of the biggest longshots in the entire tournament, so a blowout win over Saudi Arabia seemed like a decent possibility and thus would help El Tri close the goal differential gap between them and Poland.
But after two matches, it seems pretty clear that everybody underestimated Saudi Arabia, while Mexico has been dreadful.
Although their upset over Argentina resulted from the tournament so far, Saudi Arabia’s loss against Poland was also quite impressive. Although they ended up losing 2-0, the Falcons basically split the expected goals with Poland and missed a penalty. Saudi Arabia was particularly impressive in the first half, and they could feel a bit unlucky they didn’t go into the break with a lead.
Mexico, meanwhile, has been among the most disappointing teams in the entire 32-team field. Although they were not expected to set the tournament on fire, El Tri was priced as a coin flip along with Poland to advance behind Argentina, so eliminated in the group stage for the first time since 1978 (they were banned in 1990 and didn’t qualify in 1982) would be a pretty disastrous result for a soccer-crazy country.
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And judging from the recent form, there is very little reason to feel confident that El Tri can get the necessary win against Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Sure, the Mexican side has a wide talent gap, but they’ve shown absolutely nothing going forward in this tournament. Through two matches, only Costa Rica and the Netherlands have created fewer expected goals (per FBref) than Mexico.
Saudi Arabia’s defense has been leaky, and Mexico will have to go for broke to get the win so they can overwhelm the underdogs, but that could also leave them exposed to counterattacks against a team that has proven to be quite capable going forward.
These odds severely overrate Mexico’s chances of defeating Saudi Arabia and it’s fair to say that El Tri is being priced based on its reputation rather than its form.
Saudi Arabia vs. Mexico pick
Saudi Arabia (+370, FanDuel)