The young America forward scored a sensational goal to keep Mexico in the hunt for a World Cup berth, and he could push for a starting role.Raul Jimenez’s winning goal for Mexico against Panama on Friday night will reverberate on social media all over the world.
The 22-year-old burst onto the international scene with his first goal for Mexico’s full national team with some style and under pressure circumstances, with Brazil 2014 qualification slipping through Mexico’s fingers after another largely average display.
With just five minutes left and the scores level at 1-1, Jimenez found space on the edge of the penalty area, slightly fortunately flicked the ball up and launched a blind overhead kick off the post into the corner of the goal.
The technique was obvious, but it was the audacity of a young player to try such a thing with so much at stake that stands out.
“I didn’t think about it, I had to strike it in that way,” Jimenez told Televisa after the game. “Fortunately, it went in. It is something I’ll never forget.”
Without wanting to exaggerate, those who saw it won’t forget the goal any time soon either and Mexico fans will see certain similarities with Jorge Negrete’s famous strike against Bulgaria in the 1986 World Cup in the same stadium.
But while it was very much Jimenez to the rescue after another tepid performance from Mexico, the player has made consistent and sizeable strides since debuting for America in Mexico’s first division almost two years to the day.
Last season, Jimenez partnered the late Christian “Chucho” Benitez in America’s Clausura triumph, keeping at bay Ecuadorian international Narciso Mina in the process to earn the starting spot.
This season, Jimenez has become the focal point of America’s attack – with seven goals in 10 games - at a club that is dominating the Liga MX to a degree that is rarely seen. Talk of a move to a good European club shouldn’t come off the back of one goal, but the truth is that Jimenez has the physique and the depth to his game to play on the other side of the Atlantic.
Friday’s goal felt like Jimenez’s arrival, conclusive evidence that the forward belongs at international level.
The fallout is that Vucetich has an almighty headache ahead of Tuesday’s game in Costa Rica and into the future. Can the former Monterrey coach leave a player like Javier Hernandez out, who, at just 25, is third on Mexico’s all-time scorers’ list?
On the evidence of Friday, when Manchester United’s Hernandez burst into tears just after the final whistle, there is a legitimate decision to be made.
Chicharito’s second half penalty effort, with Mexico already 1-0 to the good, would’ve killed the game, but he hit it with a lack of conviction. Then there was a swing and mishit from a volley in the first half that suggests that the lack of minutes in England are starting to affect him.
It also seems Hernandez is almost putting himself under too much pressure to be the player to save El Tri, instead of that free, natural spirit that nonchalantly broke France’s offside trap in the 2010 World Cup and rounded the ‘keeper to score to announce himself at the tournament.
While Hernandez wasn’t the only average performer for El Tri, Oribe Peralta’s exceptional performance alongside him certainly doesn’t help his case. There was a stark contrast between a player not playing regularly and one that is at the top of his game and in rhythm.
Yet the competition up front is a positive for Mexico. With Jimenez now very much in the mix for a starting place, Vucetich now has the kind of problems in selecting strikers that El Tri has been missing.