ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- It has not been an easy 2018 for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. There had been no goals for Mexico, and a difficult period with club side West Ham United under David Moyes had once again fueled speculation surrounding his future.
But the striker finally managed to reach the 50-goal mark for El Tri on Saturday, becoming the first player in Mexico history to do so. Hernandez's 87-year-old grandfather, Tomas Balcazar, who featured for Mexico at the 1954 World Cup, was in attendance, surely adding to the poignancy of the occasion.
Hernandez's role within the national team has been strengthened under Juan Carlos Osorio, as bizarre as that may sound given he's the country's leading scorer and still Mexican football's most famous face. But it's easily forgotten that Hernandez -- who has now scored in three consecutive World Cups -- has never gone into the event as a starter for El Tri.
The Guadalajara native's overall game has vastly improved since he first left Mexico for Manchester United in 2010, and we saw against South Korea that he was willing to drop deep and link up play. What's more, Hernandez did it effectively. With the importance Osorio puts on trying to pull opposition players, especially defenders, out of position, it's vital to the way Mexico plays.
And Hernandez got a huge goal against South Korea, cutting inside after receiving a Hirving Lozano cross and sliding the ball into the net. When the 30-year-old gets that little boost of confidence, like most strikers, it usually leads to good things.
But with "Chicharito," this World Cup hasn't just seen him become a starting player. He's now also a leader in the dressing room and around camp -- not necessarily in the traditional sense of giving orders, but he certainly sets the tone. And his relationship with Osorio is one of mutual respect, with Hernandez suggesting the Colombian tactician was "like a genius" ahead of the World Cup.
Much has been said and written about the way this Mexican national team has come together, become a collective or a "group of friends," as those on the inside of the camp describe it. And Hernandez's message after netting his 50th goal was in line with that.
"I dedicate this individual achievement to the team," Hernandez said after the game -- in which he was named man of the match -- in a news conference. "[I couldn't have done it] without them, without the coaching staffs that I've had, [and] now with these teammates and this coaching coach from Colombia that is believing in us so much and us in them. We're here for them, and they are here for us."
Hernandez has been important in forging that connection in the squad and with the coaching staff, which has been vital given that he is the biggest star of this team. The atmosphere wouldn't be the same if he were put on a pedestal.
"There isn't one thing that will make us create history," Hernandez said before the World Cup at the team's media day in Los Angeles. "What we want is to try everything so that the universe conspires in our favor and we can deserve to win. Even though the beauty of football is that you can't guarantee that."
Hernandez is bilingual, unafraid to speak his mind and is outwardly ambitious. He has stated that his greatest dream and the aim of this national team in Russia is to win the World Cup. So far, he has worn his heart on his sleeve, becoming visibly emotional during the Mexican national anthem in both games and after the Germany win.
"Why can't we do what Greece did in the Euros?" wondered Hernandez in an interview with ESPN ahead of the tournament, referencing the Greeks' 2004 triumph. "Why can't we be the Leicester of the Premier League?
"We are going to make the most of it in spite of everyone, and we going to try to win ... 'Imaginemos cosas chin----s,' damn it! Why can't we win?"
"Imaginemos cosas chin----s" -- a very Mexican phrase loosely meaning "imagine amazing things" -- has become something of a catchphrase for El Tri at Russia 2018 so far.
The statement was jeered by some, as have other players, indicating their big ambitions at this tournament. But with two games down, six points in the bag and El Tri in top spot in Group F, there's now a lot more people imagining "cosas chin-----s."
And why not?