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Pizarro stakes claim for more Mexico opportunities whether club future in Europe or Liga MX

22:30 GMT+3 08/07/2019
Rodolfo Pizarro Mexico
Overcoming an arm injury to help set up the winning goal in the Gold Cup final, the Rayados attacker should have more El Tri chances going forward

It was one of those injuries that makes everyone go "Ooooof." Rodolfo Pizarro's elbow bent back in a way elbows are not supposed to bend. It was a serious injury, the kind of thing people say out loud the TV producers shouldn't replay but secretly want them to show again and again. It was serious ... and then it wasn't.

There were just two differences for Pizarro after he came back from the halftime locker room. His elbow now had a wrap on it, and he was playing on the other side.

The Monterrey attacker made a difference of his own in the second half, helping to set up the winning goal in El Tri's 1-0 victory over the United States in the Gold Cup final Sunday. His future, both with the national team and on the club level is bright. 

"Rodolfo has the ability to come in from either of the two sides where he's playing," Mexico manager Tata Martino said of the switch, adding that he wanted a fresh Uriel Antuna to keep U.S. right back Reggie Cannon pinned back.

Pizarro's job was to slip inside of Tim Ream, a natural center back playing at left back for the United States in the Gold Cup. Martino felt with Antuna attacking Cannon from the outside and Pizarro tucking inside to combine with forward Raul Jimenez, eventually a U.S. defense that had given up just a single goal in the tournament prior to the final would crack.

That's exactly what happened in the 73rd minute with Jonathan dos Santos finding a tucked-in Pizarro. Then he went to work. He gets past Ream with just a touch and then finds a passing lane for Jimenez. The forward slips the ball behind him for Dos Santos, who continued his run, and the LA Galaxy attacker smashes it home. Pizarro doesn't get his name on the scoresheet, but without him there's no winning goal.

Showing that he can play on the outside was key for Pizarro this summer. Better suited to a more central role, it would've been easy for him to get lost in the national team. Instead, he's managed to fit into Martino's system even with its absence of a No. 10 or a player in a free role. When Hirving Lozano is healthy again, there once again could be questions about how it all works together up top. For now, whether in the starting XI going forward or simply as a strong attacking option off the bench, Pizarro is firmly in the national team picture.

"I think we played in a different way (under Martino), with more mobility, more desire to come out and play and not send as many long balls," Pizarro said after the contest. "I think the idea is there. The manager asked for that from us, and I think we’re on the right path."

So too is Pizarro, who moved to Rayados from Chivas last summer in a move that reportedly included a $16 million transfer fee - though former Chivas manager Matias Almeyda quipped that Pizarro needs to stand out for Monterrey since he's worth $20 million. Finding a European team who would match that price for a 25-year-old won't be easy, but Pizarro believes he'll end up in one of the world's best leagues at some point in his career.

"I’m always going to have this dream. I don’t know if it’ll be this semester, but I know I’ll move to Europe sooner or later," he said.

He has the quality, though similarly to the national team he'd have to find the right fit. Pizarro could become another cautionary tale of Mexican football, a player with the quality to make the jump abroad and face a bigger challenge than the one he confronts in Liga MX. Yet, with the premium placed on Mexican national team players, he can earn plenty of cash staying in Liga MX.

Either way, whether he chooses to chase the dream or presses on in the region, look for Martino to keep calling him in. The manager said while Pizarro was named as the man of the match, he felt it was the attacker's club teammate Jesus Gallardo who was the best player on the field. Still, the coach enjoyed what he saw and once Pizarro was at full fitness, he played him every minute he could.

Pizarro gives Mexico something it has missed - a 'jugador desequilibrante' not simply because of speed or athletic ability but because of how he moves, the angles at which he finds passes and the tricks he can do when the ball is at his feet. There are certainly things to fine-tune as well. For one, he's too easily tempted to get into an unnecessary confrontation, crossing the line from cheeky instigator to red-card risk.

He stayed on the field during the entire Gold Cup, though. Even on Sunday, when it would've been easier not to, when he could've listened to the pain emanating from his arm and requested a change. Mexico would've been worse off without Pizarro - likely Roberto Alvarado is a nice player but doesn't provide the same spark Pizarrro can.

The truth is that few players in the Mexico player pool do. "I’m happy, happy for what I did, for the matches I played and for the title, more than anything," he said. The 2019 Gold Cup won't be the last trophy we see Pizarro lift.