Jesus "Tecatito" Corona had become somewhat of a marginalized name for the Mexico national team, at least compared to fellow forwards Raul Jimenez and Hirving Lozano. That may not have been fair for a 27-year-old in his prime, but there have also been underlying reasons.
The biggest national team headline Corona has created following the 2018 World Cup, at least prior to his performance in Wednesday's 1-0 victory over the Netherlands, had been the FC Porto player's no-show at Gerardo Martino's first camp and subsequent public scolding.
The Portuguese top division's Most Valuable Player for the 2019-20 season is now firmly established in Europe, but his national team career has been marked by inconsistency and he'd only played twice over Martino's 18 games in charge before Wednesday night.
After Wednesday's display in Amsterdam, the hope for Mexico is that he can finally become the player for El Tri that he has threatened to be and firmly establish himself as a starter.
Corona was electric. Even in his Monterrey days -- there was a Club World Cup game against Chelsea in 2012 that stood out -- Corona was a player who oozed class, possessed an ease in beating defenders and a rare two-footed-ness.
A lot has happened since -- including a mysterious exit from the Mexico squad before the 2017 Confederations Cup -- and only 34 minutes for Corona at Russia 2018 was too little for a player with his talent. But those same raw traits were on display against the Netherlands in Johan Cruyff Arena, with young Dutch full-back Owen Wijndal having a torrid night up against him.
Corona had 10 touches inside the opposition box -- seven more than any Dutch player -- had more touches of the ball than anyone on the field except Teun Koopmeiners and won the ball back three times in the attacking third, again more than any other player on the pitch.
It was a performance that turned heads, even if he also lost the ball a total of 25 times.
"I want to highlight the team, there were lots of high points," said Martino in the postgame video conference when asked about Corona's display. "Like I said to Jesus at the end, he is a decisive player for us, very important."
But what really stood out to Martino is the side of Corona's game that has developed at Porto, likely helped by the occasions when he has been asked to play full-back or wing-back.
"He's a player that stands out because of how well he plays [on the ball], but that doesn't do justice to all the work he does for the team, how he dropped to help out the full-backs, how he works to cut off passing lanes, how he recovers the ball and that makes him even more valuable," added Martino. "I think he's played a massive game and he just missed the goal."
It was certainly noticeable that before the game that Martino mentioned Corona, unprovoked, when asked about whether Jimenez is this team's natural leader.
"There are natural occurrences in football, cycles that change and that open the path for other footballers," Martino had said. "And what is happening with Raul, like it could with Jesus Corona, is that they are taking the baton that the more experienced players, who are much closer to the end, are passing on."
The challenge for Corona is to find something he hasn't managed to conjure over his national team career: consistency.
"Work, the work and discipline that I've shown out over recent years; I've felt the change in myself," Corona explained to TUDN when asked about his form. "I've realized what is good for me and what is bad. Before I didn't go to the gym much, now I go a bit, it's a little things like that."
The trident of Corona in this form, coupled with Lozano, who was absent Wednesday but who is finally hitting his stride at Napoli, and Jimenez up front and all guided by Martino is certainly enticing for Mexico.
But aside from Corona's eye-catching display, this was a quality performance in general from Mexico; a reminder of how attractive a team it is to watch when faced with opposition who will go toe to toe.
Raul Jimenez's fine form leads Mexico past Netherlands
Raul Jimenez has scored 11 goals in his last 17 matches for Mexico as El Tri beat the Netherlands 1-0.
Martino, however, isn't getting carried away by defeating former Atlanta United FC coach Frank de Boer's Netherlands.
"I think that for better or worse results confuse us," said the former Newell's Old Boys manager. "We played well. If you ask me, I'd say we could still play better."
The context of the game, which Martino didn't shy away from, was that last time Mexico had faced truly quality competition, El Tri fell flat on its face, losing badly to an Argentina side in 2019 that allowed it to have possession and simply picked holes in the defense when it won the ball back.
"We controlled the game but we made mistakes in Argentina's quick transitions," stated Martino after Wednesday's game. "The team didn't have those individual errors today, it was very solid, hard-working when winning the ball back."
"In the elaboration of plays we didn't lose the ball as much in uncomfortable conditions," he continued. "So the control of the game functioned a lot more than against Argentina when every counter was a chance for them."
In other words, it's not that the style or philosophy has been altered, but the execution was much better.
Mexico may have had to hang on for the last 15 minutes and this was a Netherlands team with one eye on upcoming Nations League games, but after the long wait for El Tri games during the coronavirus pandemic, Martino's team and especially Corona's display produced a reminder that it's 11th place ranking in FIFA isn't necessarily out of sorts.
Next up is Algeria on Tuesday in a game against the African champions that Martino stated could be more difficult than Wednesday's impressive win over the Netherlands.