It was the 62nd minute of Mexico’s final Group A encounter with Croatia when the fourth official raised the substitution board which announced El Tri’s No14 was entering the fray. In Los Aztecas’ opening two games at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Javier Hernandez had joined the action on 74 minutes, but failed to find the net. The 26-year-old had a hefty weight on his shoulders, having gone a year and a day since last scoring for his country.
Third in Mexico’s all-time top scorers’ list with 36 goals, Chicharito’s last effort for El Tri also came on Brazilian soil, against Japan in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup. Thrown on versus the Croatians by coach Miguel Herrera to try and turn a game locked at 0-0, within 20 minutes the Mexicans charged into a 3-0 lead at a vibrant Arena Pernambuco, Hernandez himself grabbing the third to finally end his lengthy drought.
Releasing the pressure
Just as for Los Aztecas’ opener, headed home by skipper Rafa Marquez, goal number three of the night came from a corner. Marquez flicked on for Chicharito to steal in and nod home at the far post. “It felt like a weight had been lifted,” said Hernandez, speaking exclusively to FIFA.com after the match.
“This whole year has been very tough. 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,” he added with a wry smile, reflecting a blend of happiness and relief.
“I’d like to dedicate this to my grandfather, who’s about to turn 85 but has still made the effort to be here. It’s for all those who’ve been with me in the good times and the bad, like my wife and my family. They know that I’m always happy to work hardest during the toughest times.”
Despite the impressive nature of Mexico’s 3-1 success, Hernandez was level-headed. “We’re really happy, really pleased,” said the Manchester United front-man.
“But we have to stay very calm, very humble and not get carried away. 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 [in the Round of 16] and keep moving along the path we’ve set out for ourselves.”
Although it had been some time since Hernandez got on the scoresheet, it is no coincidence that El Tri’s goals all came once he took the field. Even when Chicharito is not scoring himself, his clever movement and persistence create inviting spaces for his team-mates.
“I just enjoy playing football, I love having fun on the field. I’ve had games where a lot of people said I played really well, even without having a single shot on goal. That’s one of the nice things about football, it’s not only about scoring goals. Of course they're important, but when you’re a footballer you also need to work with your team-mates and put them first.”
That team spirit and togetherness will certainly be required against the Oranje, who at Brazil 2014 have stood out thanks to the attacking riches at their disposal – including Hernandez’s Red Devils club-mate Robin van Persie. “He’s a great centre-forward. He’s got incredible technique which makes him world-class, while he’s one of the quickest strikers around. I’ve learned a lot from him and he’s helped me so much.
“We won’t start thinking about them until tomorrow though,” said Chicharito, as the interview ended. “Right now we need to spend the rest of tonight savouring this win. We need to enjoy it along with all these lovely people, the ones who made such a fantastic atmosphere tonight in the stands.”