International football matches are often settled by fine margins and on the biggest stage of them all, the World Cup, such margins have rarely been tighter. Just moments after coming on as a substitute, Javier Hernandez kept level with the last France defender, before keeping his composure to round Hugo Lloris and tap Mexico into a second-half lead. With that goal, Hernandez has exploded into the World Cup just as the competition is livening up. But the fuse was lit some time earlier. After a hugely prolific season with Guadalajara, where he fired 21 goals in 28 appearances, the forward known as ‘Chicharito’ was included in Mexico’s 30-man provisional squad. His latest strike, his eighth in 14 appearances for El Tri, has ensured that the secret of Hernandez is now out. Sir Alex Ferguson however, was already privy to the unknown Hernandez prior to his prolific World Cup preparations, and the 22-year-old will officially join Manchester United on July 1.
Hernandez’s first competitive goal for his country will be a moment to cherish, likewise the move to Old Trafford. But as Hernandez savours the strike that puts the Aztecas’ one step closer to qualifying for the latter stages of the tournament, many will be oblivious to the problems that blighted his early career, almost forcing the young striker to retire. Reflecting on his early days at Guadalajara, he said: “I thought about retiring because I felt stuck there. Every week would pass and my name would not be on the list for the game. I was not injured and was playing well in training, but I got nothing from the coach. At that time I was indebted to my father who gave me really helpful advice. He told me to be patient and wait for my opportunity and thank God I did that. I just didn’t want to play football anymore and my parents really had to work hard to convince me not to walk away from everything.”
The introduction of Hernandez and Cuautehmoc Blanco, who secured the win with a well-taken penalty, paid further tribute to the quality of the Mexican squad, as Coach Javier Aguirre again utilised his substitutions to tilt the game in his favour. The Aztecas coach trusted the system deployed against South Africa, making just one change in personnel. Hector Moreno came in for Paul Aguilar. The latter impressed against Bafana Bafana, providing an effective attacking outlet from right-back. The switch countered the inclusion of Florent Malouda for the French, as Ricardo Osorio- a more defensive minded right-back- filled the void left by Aguilar, allowing Moreno to partner Francisco Rodriguez at the heart of defence. With Aguirre retaining the central bank of three in midfield, the Aztecas were well equipped defensively yet attacked with purpose. The plan worked, as Mexico frustrated a French forward line that consisted of Malouda, Nicolas Anelka and Sidney Govou, with Franck Ribery lurking intently behind them. Malouda came closest to beating Oscar Perez, but the stopper was a match for his powerful effort, tipping it over the bar. Left-back Carlos Salcido was again prominent in joining attacks and his energy-sapping runs pinned Bacary Sagna to the byline, allowing Carlos Vela and Gio dos Santos to impose their creativity on an exciting first-half. Salcido’s display will have only enhanced his growing reputation, especially as the PSV defender has been told the club are actively looking to sell him.
The win sees Aguirre lead his side into the game against Uruguay knowing a win will see his side top Group A. With all of the players included in the success over Les Bleus contributing to the win, the Coach will again have decisions to make over the coming days. Blanco and Hernandez’s recent cameo roles from the bench, accompanied by the impact of Pablo Barrera and Andres Guardardo as replacements, may cement Aguirre’s current line-up for Tuesday’s final group match. Aguirre will be safe in the knowledge that the afore mentioned group have the ability to dictate a game in the latter stages, but such impressive performances could yet be rewarded with a place in the starting XI.