Following on the heels of his dramatic emergence upon the English football scene with Manchester United, Mexican forward, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is lighting up scoreboards throughout the group stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
In Mexico's three matches thus far, Chicharito has once again elevated his game, proving to be one of the world's predominant young goal poachers with his preternatural instincts in front of opponents' nets.Through the opening round, he leads all scorers with five total goals in three games, and will have the opportunity to add to his tally as Mexico progresses to the elimination rounds.
Mexico's opening match pitted them against El Salvador, a side not expected to give El Tri much trouble. The two teams battled throughout the first half, ending the initial 45 minutes at a scoreless impasse. That soon changed, as Efrain Juarez opened the scoring with a bizarre, rebound header 55 minutes in. Just two minutes later, forward Jesus De Nigris, subbed in only after the first goal, bolstered Mexico's lead with another strike from the left of the penalty marker.
With only one shot over the opening 45 minutes, Chicharito was unusually quiet, but entered the second half determined to leave his impact upon the match. At the 59 minute mark, Hernandez latched onto a long-range Pablo Berrera cross following a corner kick, burying the header with an efficiency rarely see from such a diminutive player. Standing only 5'9", the 23-year-old star boasts an aerial attack usually seen from players at least a few inches taller.
Only seven minutes later, Chicharito unleashed a shot from the right of the penalty mark, latching onto a long chip over the defense, putting the game out of reach with his second goal, to make it 4-0. Threatening throughout the second half, he was a constant terror, unnerving the El Salvador defense with his quick, incisive runs.
In the waning moments of the match, another dangerous run from Hernandez saw him taken down in the box on a breakaway by Salvadorian defender Marvin Gonzalez, who received a red for his challenge. Chicharito expertly chipped home the ensuing penalty to complete his hat trick in Mexico's decisive, 5-0 tournament opening match.
Four days later, El Tri traveled to Costa Rica for a matchup with Cuba, a team that had been dismantled by Costa Rica in a 5-0 drubbing in their tournament opener. Mexico furthered the Cuban misery as they handed them another demoralizing beating to shatter their hopes of advancing beyond the group stage.
This time, Chicharito was threatening from the beginning of the match. He hit two shots in the first six minutes, though both missed the target. Thirty-five minutes in, he opened the scoring ledger with yet another header, leaping unmarked above the defense to turn an Andres Guardado corner kick into the back of the net.
Despite Mexico's opening salvo and 14 shots throughout the first half, Cuba weathered the storm and the first half ended 1-0.
Cuban hopes began to build as they held off the Mexican onslaught for the first 15 minutes of the second half. Those hopes were quickly dashed however, as Mexico scored three times in quick succession beginning in the 62nd minute. Pablo Berrera found Giovanni Dos Santos inside the six-yard box where Dos Santos beat the keeper with a point blank shot into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Just two minutes later, Mexico struck again, this time as Chicharito provided the assist to Jesus De Nigris, who buried a shot from the right side, just outside the edge of the six-year box. Another couple minutes passed, before Dos Santos got into the action again, this time drilling home from 10 yards out, from the left of the goal in the 67th minute.
Chicharito, not satisfied with his opening goal and an assist, continued to attack, and his persistence paid off with a second goal, this time slotting home from near the penalty spot in the 75th minute. The drubbing was complete and Mexico crushed Cuba's CONCACAF dream with a 5-0 defeat.
Progressing to their third match, against an undefeated Costa Rican side, Mexico was flying high. Costa Rica, 5-0 victors over Cuba, had drawn 1-1 with El Salvador in their second game. With a victory over El Tri, Costa Rica could take the Group A lead and undoubtedly progress into the latter stages of the Gold Cup.
The Mexican squad had other plans however, as they unleashed an unrelenting assault that the Costa Ricans couldn't possibly withstand.
Chicharito wouldn't be the star this time, but his compatriots picked up the slack to demolish Costa Rica at Soldier Field in Chicago. The game started out intensely with neither team able to grab definitive momentum throughout the opening minutes.
That quickly changed however, as defender Rafael Marquez charge the goal and drilled home a header from a Pablo Berrera corner kick in the 16th minute.
Just minutes later, 19 minutes into the contest, Israel Castro found Andres Guardado, 15 yards out to the left of the goal, where the midfielder netted with an amazing volley to build an early two-goal cushion.
Guardado doubled his haul soon thereafter, scoring his second from an acute angle to the left of the Costa Rican goal, making it 3-0 after 25 minutes. Giovanni Dos Santos had provided the service this time, and Guardado drilled his near-post shot past the shell-shocked Costa Rican keeper.
Pablo Berrera got into the action, latching onto a Carlos Salcido through-ball and finding the back of the net from the left edge of the six-yard box, scoring Mexico's fourth goal in the first 38 minutes.
Costa Rica earned themselves a consolation goal when Marcos Urena found himself open inside the 18-yard box, where he perfectly placed a shot into the bottom-left corner of the net. It would be too little too late for this match, but goal differential is always a critical factor in tournaments, so no goal is meaningless.
The third successive blowout victory earned Mexico an easy pass through to the quarter-final match which will take place June 18 at New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. El Tri must still await results of other group stage matches which will determine their competition.
Though the massive scorelines were the results of a comprehensive team effort, the undeniable star of the group stage was Mexico's Chicharito. With five goals and one assist through three matches, he leads all scorers in the tournament and will likely have ample opportunity to add to his tally if Mexico progresses as expected.
After his thrilling debut in England, in which he made a dramatic contribution to Sir Alex Ferguson's Premier League Champion Manchester United squad, Chicharito is suddenly a global star in his ascendency, well on his way to joining the upper echelon of football's elite. With 20 goals in 45 appearances for United, the young forward earned the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award, voted on by supporters of the club.
In conjunction with his emergence as a legitimate impact player in England, Chicharito's performances for Mexico are quickly cementing his reputation as a lethal finisher capable of taking over any match he appears in. No matter where your football allegiance lies, the "Little Pea" is always a joy to watch play the beautiful game.