It's been a rough year for winger Jesus Corona of Porto and Mexico. Nevertheless, he's happy to have an opportunity that has been so difficult to come by for many of his countrymen.
"Tecatito" -- "Little Tecate," after the beer brand that sponsored his former club Monterrey (a rival to the one that shares his surname, no less) -- discussed his path to this year's World Cup in a conversation with ESPN's David Faitelson, who conducted exclusive in-depth interviews with Mexico World Cup candidates who play on European clubs as Russia 2018 approaches.
"I went after what I wanted and got it little by little," Corona said. "... I think that more and more there are Mexican players who can do well in Europe, but the internal problems [with Liga MX clubs] keep it from happening."
Corona forms part of Portuguese giant Porto's Mexican contingent with team captain Hector Herrera and centre-back Diego Reyes. In 2013, the young Rayados star saw a long sought-after dream of playing in Europe come to fruition when Monterrey sold him to Dutch club FC Twente for $5 million. Two years later he was transferred to Porto; he scored twice in his 2015 debut and had eight goals in 28 league appearances in 2015-16. However, he had just three goals in 35 Portuguese and Champions League games last season, which saw Porto win the domestic crown.
"Tecatito" missed the Confederations Cup because of a personal issue and left El Tri's camp in the fall -- he later shared on social media that his wife had suffered a miscarriage. Thigh, hand and ankle injuries have hampered his year on the pitch, but he still declared himself "100 percent" ready for Russia.
"It doesn't look like it because of the performances, there hasn't been goals or assists. But emotionally, mentally, I'm in the best shape," said Corona, 25. "I've had to overcome a lot of things, just like the whole world does, and at this moment I really feel ready for what's coming."
As did many of Corona's compatriots in Europe, Corona cited an imbalance slanted toward the business side of Mexican football as the reason El Tri hasn't reached its international potential. The secretive and unofficial "gentlemen's pact" between Liga MX owners which curbs free agency even when players' contracts end, and the high price tags that club owners place on players who draw interest from overseas, are seen as the main culprits.
"We come back to the same thing, it comes from the top," he said. "What the player brings is experience, what he does on the pitch. If they want you at 17, want to bring you over to Porto 'B' or someplace like that, it's not the same as, I don't know, staying in Puebla. You understand? More players need to head over here quicker to European football to gain more experience."
That experience amounts to a faster pace of football not found in Mexico but conducive to the international game.
"It's a different pace on how you challenge each possession, because over here there's an exceptional level where if you make an error they score on you, or the other way around," Corona said. "There's a huge difference in that aspect."
Mexico opens its participation in what is expected to be a tight Group F on June 17 against defending champion Germany, a side Corona and his teammates are eager to challenge.
"We're not scared of them. If we are, then we shouldn't be there," he said. "I think it was Andres [Guardado] who said, if you're not dreaming of winning the World Cup, then why go? I don't think there's any fear. We have to go out and try to win under [manager Juan Carlos] Osorio's plan and stay close like we are off the field, do it on it."