Jesus Corona summons a timid smile as the photographer asks him to take up position for the photo that goes with this story. He looks a little uncomfortable, or at least not as comfortable as he does in his natural habitat: the opposition penalty box. Nor is he especially talkative. But then again, Corona is one of those players who prefer to do his talking on the pitch.
Following two games in which both he and his team failed to click, the striker was back to his very best in the 4-1 defeat of Mali that allowed Mexico to scrape through to the last 16 of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 as one of the four best third-placed sides. Lying in wait for them now are none other than mighty Spain, the ultimate test of El Tri’s credentials and those of their star forward.
As he explained in an exclusive chat with FIFA.com, Corona was relieved to get his first goal of the tournament in the win over the Malians. “I opened my account at last,” he said in a pensive tone. “Let’s hope there are more on the way. It was a weight off all our minds, not just mine, and it’s given our confidence a boost.”
That confidence was flagging after Mexico arrived in Turkey as pre-tournament favourites only to lose to Greece and Paraguay, results that left them staring elimination in the face. “I don’t know why we weren’t able to play our usual game in the first two matches,” commented Corona. “Things finally worked out for us against Mali, though, and we’re full of belief again. We’ve put it all behind us and now we’re starting from scratch against Spain.”
Now that Mexico have been given a second chance, Corona believes they can achieve big things: “We have the heart and the commitment to win any game,” he said.
This tournament is a very important step for me. I see it as something that could totally change our lives.
Aside from his goals, the striker is also a calming influence on the team and plays his part in ensuring they can handle the pressure when it comes to getting the results they need. He owes those qualities to the experience he has already acquired in the professional game as a member of the first-team squad at Monterrey, for whom he scored two goals at last year’s FIFA Club World Cup.
“I think that experience allows me to bring a cool head to the team and reassure them that things will work out for us,” he said. “It’s all about me giving the very best of myself and doing my bit so that we can achieve our aims.”
Against Spain his technique and dribbling skills will be more vital than ever, and Corona is well aware of the challenge he and his team-mates face: “They are a great side and very difficult to beat, but every match is different. We hope to play the best game of our lives because it’s all or nothing now. I don’t think 100 per cent is going to be enough against Spain. We have to give a lot more if we want to beat them.”
There is nothing dramatic about the way Corona assesses Mexico’s task against the only side in the competition who have won all their games. His words are measured and delivered with a sense of calm.
While Corona might seem the quiet type, he likes to let his hair down with his team-mates, which is what he did when the squad’s third-choice goalkeeper Manuel Lajud picked up a guitar after dinner one evening and began playing a song by Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona, whose music helps the team wind down at night.
As the laughing Rayados striker explained, the team joined Lajud in song: “We like to sing but we don’t really know how. We do try though. Carlos Trevino is the best singer out of the lot of us, or at least he tries harder than anyone.”
Corona, a one-time baseball fan, is unconcerned about his lack of singing talent. The one thing that really matters to him and makes him happy is what he can do with a ball: “The very first time I got hold of a ball I said, ‘This is my thing. This is what I like doing’.”
His dream is to one day make the move to Europe, where his beloved Barcelona play. Aware that a good performance in Turkey could be the springboard to an exciting new phase in his career, he said: “This tournament is a very important step for me. I see it as something that could totally change our lives.”
Today’s do-or-die meeting with La Rojita could mark the start of that change.