Column: Javier Hernandez and soccer gods benefit Mexico
Mexico can win the Copa America Centenario.
No, scratch that.
Mexico should win the Copa America Centenario.
Striker Javier Hernandez is in form and has the right players around him. Fans are behind the team. And if that isn’t enough, well, let’s just say the soccer gods have been extremely generous to Mexico recently in its adopted homeland.
The latest gifts from the heavens came Thursday in a 2-0 victory over Jamaica at the Rose Bowl that secured El Tri’s passage to the tournament quarterfinals.
Twice, refereree Wilton Sampaio could have whistled a penalty kick for Jamaica. Twice, Mexico wasn’t punished.
Surprised? Don’t be.
When it comes to producing questionable decisions, soccer is rivaled in sports by only boxing.
The first incident was in the 43rd minute, when Mexico was protecting a one-goal advantage and defender Yasser Corona clipped counterattacking Jamaican forward Clayton Donaldson without touching the ball.
Sampaio didn’t point to the penalty spot, much to the relief of the overwhelmingly pro-Mexico crowd, which was announced at 83,263.
Perhaps Sampaio didn’t like that Donaldson oversold the foul. Or perhaps Sampaio thought the ball was no longer in Donaldson’s reach when contact was made.
Whatever the case, a similar play unfolded in the 63rd minute, as Donaldson was again on a counterattack and again was taken down by Corona in the penalty box.
This was a clearer penalty. Donaldson surely would get this call, right?
“Looked like penalties on the pitch,” Jamaican midfielder Michael Hector said.
Mexico Coach Juan Carlos Osorio offered no sympathy.
“That’s football,” he said in Spanish.
Osorio rejected the premise that the final score didn’t reflect the action on the field.
“That’s your opinon,” he said. “I thought we were superior.”
El Tri had already received a blessing when the schedule was released, as its three group-stage games happened to be placed in three metropolitan areas with substantial Mexican populations: Phoenix, Los Angeles and Houston.
If Mexico remains the top team in its group, its quarterfinal match will take place in Silicon Valley, another place where it should receive overwhelming amount of support.
The semifinal on that side of the bracket will be in Chicago, which has the country’s second-largest Mexican population behind Los Angeles’.
Weird how that happened, no?
Mexico won, but not without controversy.
Mexico slipped past Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, courtesy of a stoppage-time penalty kick.
In the next round, Mexico reversed a 1-0 deficit against Panama when it was awarded two penalty kicks in the final minutes.
If this history isn’t imposing enough for opponents, Mexico also happens to be playing extremely well — maybe as well as, if not better than, it has ever played.
Its victory over Jamaica extended its unbeaten streak to a team-record 21 games.
Mexico also has the most dangerous weapon in the sport, a hot striker. By nodding in an 18th-minute cross from Jesus Corona, Hernandez continued to do what he did all season in Germany’s Bundesliga, where he found the net 26 times for Bayer Leverkusen. Hernandez’s next goal for Mexico will be his 46th, which would equal Jared Borgetti’s all-time record.
But the team is more than Hernandez. Seven of the players in the starting 11 are based in Europe. Two others, reserve defender Diego Reyes and suspended midfielder Andres Guardado, also play overseas.
The migration of Mexican players is a relatively recent phenomenon, which could explain why the team has become increasingly flexible from a tactical standpoint.
“If the players continue to execute each plan, Mexico has all the possibilities to compete with anyone,” Osorio said.
Especially if they continue receiving help.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter: @dylanohernandez
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