The usual smile on Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s face was non-existent in the tunnel before entering the field and during the Mexican national anthem on Saturday. It was replaced by an almost melancholic stare. He also looked visibly tired, perhaps of the responsibility he carries with this Mexico side or perhaps with just how poorly the team has played recently.
But though the first half of Saturday’s 2-1 victory against Japan was another frustrating affair for both Hernandez and El Tri, the second half was a welcome reminder of just how valuable he is to Mexico. His two goals also handed some relief to under-fire fellow Guadalajara native Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre in the Mexican coach's seat.
After the game, it was all smiles for the Manchester United player, who scored his 34th and 35th goals for El Tri to move within 11 of all-time highest scorer Jared Borgetti. Hernandez now has seven of Mexico’s last eight goals, although the team as a whole has failed to find the target too often, netting only once in its last four World Cup qualifying games.
The truth is that Hernandez’s goal-scoring ability has never really been in doubt since he left for Manchester United. The fact that he scored twice on Saturday – it could’ve been three if he’d have scored from the penalty spot – was more to do with the way the team clicked into gear in the attacking third, really for the first time in the Confederations Cup.
The first half highlighted the same bland offense from Mexico, which was quite easily dealt with by Japan, which should’ve been in the lead when a goal in the ninth minute was incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Andres Guardado lumbered, Giovani Dos Santos was subdued and Raul Jimenez worked hard, but didn’t have the desired impact on his first competitive start for the full national team. The result was a frustrated Chicharito dropping back to try and get on the ball, to the delight of the Japanese defenders, no doubt.
After the break, El Tri began to click. Guardado looked like a different player, the kind who belongs at a top European club like Valencia. On the right wing, Dos Santos was a headache and it was in those conditions that Hernandez came into his element.
A visionary pass from Diego Reyes to Guardado started the move for the first goal. The former Atlas player controlled and whipped a cross between the central defenders that Hernandez has made more than a few dollars from converting.
It was a fast, incisive move that Mexico has been lacking recently, replaced by laborious build-up play that stifles Hernandez and makes him easier to nullify.
There is an argument that El Tri is too reliant on the 25-year-old and certainly you’d like Guardado, Dos Santos and others to be contributing more in the goal department, but Saturday was another reminder that if the service if there, Chicharito will score.
Follow TOM MARSHALL on Twitter or shoot him an email