Jesus Corona, Hirving Lozano now the keys to Mexico's attack
MEXICO CITY -- There was something special about Mexico's only goal against Panama on a rainy night at Estadio Azteca. Jesus "Tecatito" Corona looked up and sent in a cross that found Hirving "Chucky" Lozano, alone, inside the box. Lozano then connected with a header, scoring the winner that clinched Mexico its World Cup berth. On Friday night, Corona and Lozano's performances carried El Tri to victory, and also shed light on the fact that they are prepared to tie all the strings together in Mexico's attack.
In World Cup qualifying play, Corona and Lozano have been important components in Juan Carlos Osorio's Mexico. Corona has scored three goals, just like Lozano. However, two of Lozano's goals have come in Hexagonal games, while Corona's only contribution in the seven Hexagonal matches disputed has been the assist to Lozano's recent goal. But it's worth pointing out that Corona had a great participation in the 2016 Copa America Centenario, while Lozano responded to Osorio's trust in the Confederations Cup with a vital goal in the 2-1 win over Russia.
Corona was born in 1993, Lozano in 1995. Both footballers come from generations that have lived Mexican football's slow progression on the world stage. They have witnessed Mexico consistently reach the Round of Sixteen in World Cups but go no further, seen a pack of Mexican teenagers beat Brazil 3-0 to lift the Under-17 World Cup in 2005 and celebrated Mexico winning the Olympic gold medal in 2012.
Tecatito and Chucky are months away from participating in their first ever World Cup, but their roles in the national team appear to be greater than those roles that Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos, both of whom already know what it means to represent El Tri in a World Cup, will have.
Against Panama, complications did arise. Although Osorio selected a highly offensive XI, Mexico's passing wasn't sharp in the first half, and most of its creative plays started with Corona's boots. Lozano entered the game in the 51st minute, and two minutes later he was already celebrating a goal.
Their hunger and most importantly, initiative, helped Mexico get that vital goal that allowed it to control a complicated game, which called for goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to make five saves.
The game that Tecatito and Chucky had against Panama supported an argument that Tigres manager, Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti, made about players and tactical schemes after Tigres' 2-2 draw against Club America several days ago.
After a journalist asked him why he switched his tactical scheme from one game to the other, Ferretti replied, "For real, I think that you're worrying too much about the tactical scheme. In other words, we use it to set up the starting XI, so you can have something concrete. But right when the referee whistles the start of the game, everything breaks apart.
"So, the full-back plays as an attacking winger, the midfielder as a striker, and yes there was a chat before the match to plan things out, but after the initial whistle everything breaks apart because that's how football is. In the game, you need mobility, and naturally, for me the most important part of the game is not a system, but the players," he paused. "The tactical scheme is used to know where each player is found, but everything transforms, so this is not something that keeps me busy.
"I've always said, 'If the system is more important than the players, why do clubs pay all that money for players like Neymar, mano (brother)? If they really want a system, they should go to NASA, so they can discover one, and if that happens, I can even put you to play,'" he smiled after making his point.
Ferretti's words, to a certain extent, were on point, especially when looking at how Mexico was able to beat Panama. The individual contributions of Tecatito and Chucky gave El Tri that little extra needed to get the win.
However, in order for El Tri to transcend in next year's World Cup, it will need of a strong collective unit, which will allow Tecatito and Chucky to shine. There's still questions to be answered, for example, should Osorio continue using Lozano as a key element off the bench or start him? What will players like Giovani and Vela offer when it looks like Tecatito and Chucky are ready to be El Tri's principle attacking creators?
The best-case scenario for Osorio and his coaching staff would be to find ways to get Giovani, Vela, Tecatito, and Chucky at an equal level come the World Cup, but that remains to be seen.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.