With just six minutes to go in Mexico’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying match at home to Panama at a heaving Azteca stadium, El Tri were staring down the barrel of elimination, something almost unthinkable for one of CONCACAF’s heavyweights. Panama had just equalised and were counting down the seconds before rejoicing in what would have been one of their best ever results.
Raul Jimenez had other ideas, however. Having only been on the pitch a couple of minutes, the young forward scored one of the most memorable goals ever witnessed at the Azteca to spark scenes of wild celebration across the entire country.
The Club America striker’s stunning overhead kick gave Mexico a lifeline in their efforts to reach Brazil 2014. Having been on the edge of the abyss, El Tri can now still qualify directly for next year’s showpiece tournament when they face Costa Rica on Tuesday. With kick-off to that crucial match fast approaching, FIFA.com spoke exclusive to Jimenez.
His goal is, of course, the first topic of conversation. “I have to admit that it all happened because I controlled the ball badly,” said the 22-year-old, for whom the emotion of the occasion has yet to die down. “I miscontrolled it and it bounced up quite high. I had time to see that the defender was approaching, but I had enough space to try it. I didn’t even think about it. If I’d let it come down any more they’d have been able to take it off me.”
Despite netting nine goals in 13 games to help Club America to the Mexican title, Jimenez’s strike for the national team marked the pinnacle of his nascent career so far. “I’ll never forget it,” Jimenez continued. “Not only because of the kind of goal it was, but also because I’d only been on the pitch a few minutes and it was such an important goal for the team.”
The euphoria may have papered over some of the cracks for both players and fans alike, but Mexico’s situation nevertheless remains precarious. Defeat to Los Ticos in San Jose, coupled with a Panama victory over USA, would spell the end of the line for Mexico. Jimenez is conscious of the significance of Tuesday’s fixture but insists the side is up to the task: “It’s a really important match but we’re going there to win. Reaching the play-offs is the most likely scenario but we know we can still qualify directly if we win and Honduras lose, but there’s no point in speculating.”
The Mexico squad travel to the Costa Rican capital on Monday, and Jimenez already knows what to expect once the side set foot on the pitch at the imposing Estadio Nacional. “There’s no doubt it’ll be tough,” said the striker. “So far every team has sat back against us, so I don’t think it’ll be much different this time, even though they’re playing at home. We need to be more clinical with the opportunities we create. We should have scored one or two more against Panama and we suffered for not doing so. We can’t afford to waste our chances against Costa Rica.”
Asked whether he believes he can be his nation’s hero once more, Jimenez replies with a maturity beyond his years: “I need to take things one step at a time. That’s the way to secure yourself a place in the team, but I need to be patient, keep working hard and make the most of the chances I get to convince the coach to play me.”
That maturity was evident after the final whistle against Panama too. Rather than lapping up the adulation of the crowd, Jimenez approached the star of the Mexico team, Javier Hernandez, who had missed a penalty minutes earlier and was crying tears of relief in the middle of the pitch.
“It was very moving because he felt bad for having missed and it could have been decisive,” revealed Jimenez. “He told me he was grateful to me for scoring. I have to say, it felt good hearing him say that,” he added, beaming. Should Jimenez’s smile still be in place come the final whistle in Costa Rica, Mexico will be on course for a place at Brazil 2014.