Can Raul Jimenez step up for Mexico in final Gold Cup matches?

El Tri’s star forward has had ups and downs this tournament, but could leave his mark in the semifinals and finals

Raul Jimenez was practically in the box before the referee had finished the coin flip.

When Mexico and Costa Rica finished level after 90 minutes and no one was able to score in extra time, the forward stepped up to take the first penalty kick. He should. Not only is Jimenez a leader on the team and, after his standout season with Wolves in the Premier League, its best attacker, he’s nearly a guarantee from the spot. His first-ever penalty miss, in a preseason game with Wolves, made headlines all over Mexico as an oddity.

He may stop taking them at NRG Stadium, though. After going one for two against Uruguay in a September 2018 friendly at the home of the Houston Texans, he led off the shootout with a miss Saturday. His effort was low and near the middle, hitting the diving Costa Rican goalkeeper Leonel Moreira. Jimenez’s teammates, like goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, picked up the slack as El Tri won the shootout 5-4 and moved into the Gold Cup semifinal against Haiti.

It was another day of “altibajos” for Jimenez in the Gold Cup, a showing with highs and lows. He scored a terrific goal in the first half, getting a pass from Rodolfo Pizarro in the box and keeping control as he adjusted his body positioning to get a good look at putting it past Moreira.

The opener was his fourth goal of the tournament, moving him into a tie with Uriel Antuna for the team lead and putting now-eliminated Canada forward Jonathan David’s tournament-leading mark of six within reach with good showings against Haiti and potentially in the final.

Yet, we’re still waiting on that moment in which Jimenez truly is able to take control of the game. He started the tournament with a pair of goals against Cuba in a 7-0 rout and later added insurance (which turned out to be needed) against Martinique. A game in which after you’re left thinking, “Wow, Raul really dominated today,” is yet to come. Maybe that’s a difficult standard for any player to meet in a tournament during which some teams have competed fiercely but others capitulated to Mexico rather easily.

This is a player, though, who said the Gold Cup would “be a very good opportunity to show Mexico, to show the world. who I am,” before the tournament. In truth, it was his season with Wolves that stands as a far more impressive bullet point on his resume.

Martino said earlier during this tournament he doesn’t need a No. 9 who fills the goal as long as the forward contributes to the attack. The manager also included Jimenez’s name as he listed players whose performances he’d enjoyed in Saturday’s quarterfinal. But combined with the expectations Jimenez placed on the forward both by himself and by fans prior to the competition and the quality he showed during the season, it’s fair to want more from the 28-year-old.

Jimenez has it in him. He’s Mexico’s best forward and is only now getting to link up with a healthy Pizarro – the best creator on a roster hard hit by injuries and withdrawals before the tournament.

Jimenez can score goals. He can help set things up. He can track back to attack. And he is committed to the cause.

“There’s something in which I have no doubts: I like to play and train with the national team,” he told the Mexican edition of GQ in an interview published this week. “It’s tough with the travel, the adaptation and being tired, although the pride it leaves is much bigger.

“The Mexican national team, and the fame it gives you, is a prize and you have to know how to live with that. It’s true that in Mexico it’s not possible to have a private life as a player, but to wear the green continues to be the big dream.”

The next small dream for Jimenez will be to have the Gold Cup handed over to him after it’s lifted by Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa. There’s no doubt that if Mexico does win the tournament, Jimenez will have been a help. Just how much of a help and if this is a tournament in which he truly dominates remains to be seen.

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