- 'Chicharito' came off bench as Mexico drew 1-1 with Venezuela in Houston.
- Point secured El Tri top spot in Group C.
- Fan makes 10-hour journey from Mexico to Texas to see hero.
Mexico fans flocked to Houston’s NRG Stadium hopeful of witnessing a pair of coronations on Monday: Mexico crowned winners of Group C in Copa America Centenario and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez becoming Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Mexico did take the group thanks to the 1-1 draw, but it was Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona getting the late equaliser for El Tri over tournament surprises Venezuela.
As has often been the case for Mexico, Hernandez, who had only come off the bench shortly before, had a role in a teammate’s goal by helping to create space through his own positioning and the sheer threat of his abilities. With Hernandez several metres away at the edge of the penalty area, Corona dribbled skillfully through a Venezuela defence which had not conceded a goal up to that point in the tournament. 'Tecatito' eliminated the need for his wing man by finishing his run all on his own.
Not that the Bayer 04 Leverkusen forward’s barren night in front of goal frustrated his fans.
“Chicharito must break the record,” says Faustino Martinez before the match, referring to the former Manchester United FC striker's attempt to catch Jared Borgetti, who - with 46 international goals - has one more strike than his pursuer. “Even if it doesn’t happen today, he’s only 28. He has more than enough time and, of course, the quality to do it. He’s going to break the record.”
Next trip: Germany
Because his wife had to work, Martinez endured a lengthy bus ride alone to get from Monterrey, Mexico, to Houston in order to attend the match. The bus ride and match ticket cost the Chicharito fan about $265 and ten hours in transit, though he had no second thoughts about the expense involved and is already considering his next trip to see his idol.
“My goal now will be to go watch him play in Germany,” says Martinez. “I wish to just see him. I went by the team hotel today, but there was no access for us, the fans. I hope maybe in Germany it will be easier to see him and tell him how much I admire him. Maybe in a couple of months, I can go over there.”
Chicharito’s signing for Leverkusen has resulted in a big upswing in Bundesliga interest in Mexico. Like many others, Martinez regards Hernandez’s time in Germany as positive. While Martinez is a self-described “hardcore Chivas fan,” his Chicharito fandom has made him enough of a Leverkusen supporter for his wife to decide on a black-and-red jersey as a gift for her husband.
“I think he’s killing it over there,” said Martinez, impressed by his compatriot’s healthy return of 17 top-flight goals, the fourth-best individual tally of 2015/16. “He arrived after the season started and still made a huge impact.”
While goalscoring ability is always appealing to a football fan, Martinez has a different take on what makes 'Chicharito' so popular in his homeland.
“His story is compelling. He works hard and is humble,” says Martinez. “Perhaps he has some limitations when it comes to his technique on the ball, but his humility, strength, and mentality have taken him very far. He’s an example for all to follow.”
Randall Hauk reporting from Houston