Mexico's Javier Hernandez celebrates after scoring against Croatia in a FIFA World Cup at Arena Pernambuco on June 23, 2014, in Recife, Brazil. (Photo: FIFA via Getty Images)
SANTOS, Brazil -- It had been just over a year since Javier Hernandez last scored a goal for his country and the tension was mounting. His performances, while not lacking utility, hadn’t produced a goal.
With his club output at Manchester United dwindling as well, he had been relegated to the role of super-sub ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. There was frustration in the air.
“This whole year has been very tough,” said Hernandez recently. “Players need confidence more than anything else, and I’ve been very short of it. Very few people have shown faith in me over this past year.”
For a player of Hernandez’s instincts and stature, however, it was only a matter of time until his breakthrough would come. Entering the game in the 62nd minute against Croatia on Monday, the Tricolor needed to avoid defeat in order to ensure qualification for the World Cup’s knockout stages.
After Rafael Marquez headed home the go-ahead goal off a corner, Mexico – thanks in large part to Hernandez’s pace and energy – began to run rampant. After helping set up teammate Andres Guardado’s goal for a 2-0 advantage, it was at long last Chicharito’s turn to get on the scoresheet. A Mexico corner kick found the head of Marquez, who flicked the ball to the back post, where Hernandez – in vintage, poacher fashion – headed home from point blank range. The relief was palpable.
“It felt like a weight had been lifted,” said Hernandez after the match.
With anxieties purged and the magnifying glass now perhaps slightly rescinded, the 26-year-old strikes a composed figure ahead of Mexico’s round of 16 meeting with Holland on Saturday.
“We have to stay very calm, very humble and not get carried away,” Hernandez expressed. “This is just one more step forward, a very important one, but just one more step. If we want to make history, we have to beat the Netherlands and keep moving along the path we’ve set out for ourselves.”
With a resurgent Chicharito at the ready, that path just became a little brighter.