If you tried to predict three years ago who would be the breakout star for Mexico at the 2018 World Cup, you wouldn’t have hesitated.
Jesus Corona had just finished a somewhat grueling summer in 2015. With Dutch side FC Twente eager to sell him and other players because of financial shortcomings, Corona was the only player who featured for Mexico in both the Copa America and Gold Cup. Despite the potential for fatigue, he was the breakout star of the second tournament, capping his summer with a goal in the final against Jamaica on his way to being named Best Young Player of the competition.
He earned a move to Porto where he got off to a fast start and appeared to be the Mexican star of the future, staying a regular even when Juan Carlos Osorio arrived and implemented his rotation strategy.
Now, we have a different answer about which young star will turn heads in Russia. Hirving Lozano is the Mexican golden boy with Corona somewhat forgotten. While “Chucky” has been a sensation in his first season outside Liga MX, helping PSV to the Dutch title and fighting for the league lead in scoring, Corona has had a quiet campaign with Porto.
He may still win a title, and “Tecatito,” a moniker hoisted upon him for the unlucky coincidence of sharing a last name with a different brand of beer than the one that shared ownership of his first club, still has plenty to offer El Tri.
Osorio himself has seen the progression and how Lozano has overtaken Corona as the must-start player for the national team.
“I think today it’s very easy to say that Hirving has to play in the starting XI of the Mexican national soccer team. It wasn’t like that two years ago,” Osorio said before El Tri’s March friendly against Croatia. “I’ve always thought it’s my responsibility and I take it on as that to make choices and take on the criticism based on the results. I remember when we brought Hirving to the national team, for a lot of people he was a simple player with a lot of speed,
“At that time, Tecatito was one of the only players who couldn’t be dropped. I always thought Tecate was one of the best players in one-on-one situations, with his change of direction, ability to turn and his low center of gravity. I always thought that Hirving, with other characteristics, could be exportable.”
That’s the key. While Lozano is obviously in better form and is set for a big-time move after his incredible club season, Corona still does things in a different way than Lozano. Especially with a manager who evaluates individual matchups for each game, that should lead to chances for the 25-year-old to be a factor at the World Cup.
Corona has been hit by a serious of difficult moments during the last 12 months. He missed the Confederations Cup because of an undisclosed personal issue. When he again pulled out of the squad just before November friendly matches against Belgium and Poland, there was so much criticism that the Mexican federation released the reason for his absence. His wife had suffered a miscarriage.
It is difficult for anyone to go back to doing their job at the same level after such personal tragedy, and Corona has struggled to find consistency with Porto this year. He’s settled into a role as a frequent attacking substitute. This may be one area where Osorio and Porto manager Sergio Conceicao, who often clash, can agree. Corona can come into games late with fresh legs and use his ability in one-on-one situations to create chances.
Far less serious than the personal issues, Corona took an ankle knock that kept him out of the March friendly match against Croatia and made it tougher to anticipate how Osorio plans to use him this summer. Corona can play on the right or left side of attack and has the ability to finish as well as getting free to combine with other forwards.
It's Chucky who is set to put a fright in defenses this summer, but don't be surprised to see Tecatito once again featuring for the national team and helping Mexico's cause in Russia as well.