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 By Tom Marshall

Jesus "Tecatito" Corona shows importance to Mexico vs. Venezuela

HOUSTON, Tex. -- It's no wonder that FC Porto aren't exactly keen to release Jesus "Tecatito" Corona for Olympic duty this August. The way the 23-year-old waltzed through the Venezuela defense to level for Mexico on Monday in Houston represented a snapshot of a player who has moved from "potential" to being the real deal. He has become one of El Tri's reliable, go-to attackers and is going to be vital for his club next season.

"For me, he's first-rate," said his Porto and Mexico teammate Miguel Layun after the 1-1 draw, which meant El Tri avoids Argentina in the quarterfinals of the Copa America Centenario.

"I work with him in Portugal and he shows it every day. Being first-rate doesn't mean doing what he did today in every game, it's appearing at important times."

When Corona received the ball on the left flank in the 80th minute, with Mexico increasingly desperate for an equalizer, there was very little apparent danger. As it went for most of the game, Venezuela had defended resolutely in an organized manner and there didn't even seem to be much threat when "Tecatito" skipped past the first two Vinotinto players and edged towards the penalty area. Even at that point, there were still three players right in front of him and the situation seemed to be under control. One second later and Corona had evaded all three, putting the ball into the net with a jink of the hips and a turn of pace.

Corona is no Lionel Messi, but the goal had all the hallmarks of the Argentine wizard -- and even a whiff of the Diego Maradona about it.

"You improvise," Corona explained afterwards, with a beaming smile. "It's something natural. You see the space there, you try things and sometimes they come off."

Corona has been marked down as player to watch on the Mexican scene since 2012, when he had the gall to dribble past some of Chelsea's giants as a 19-year-old with Monterrey in the Club World Cup. He continued to make his mark as El Tri's best player at the U-20 World Cup in 2013 and in his early years with Los Rayados, living up to the billing ever since as one of Mexico's most exciting youngsters.

On the club side, an early move to FC Twente in the Eredivisie from Monterrey, and then onto Porto, is almost the perfect path for future generations of Mexican youngsters to follow, although Layun believes Corona has one more step up left.

"I'd love to see him in his career fighting for a place with the best in the world," said Layun, while being careful to add that he's already at a great team in Porto.

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio has stressed time and time again that he doesn't have a fixed starting XI for any match but admitted that there is a group of "five, six or seven" players that form the core of his squad. There is no doubt now that Corona has joined the likes of Javier Hernandez, Layun, Hector Herrera, Hector Moreno, Rafa Marquez and Andres Guardado as a member of that exclusive group.

Corona's ability to pull something out of nothing and change the game was the difference for El Tri against Venezuela, although his goal wasn't the only positive. After coming off the bench in the 18th minute, Corona basically took control of the game after Layun was substituted in at the break, flying past defenders and causing problems in combination with his Porto teammate down Mexico's left.

When Corona gets on the ball, fans move a little closer to the edge of their seats. His speed, grace in possession and natural balance make "Tecatito" a very watchable and exciting player. Most importantly for Mexico and Osorio in the short term, Corona seems to be growing into this Copa America and getting significantly better each game.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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