Diego Reyes and Raul Jimenez have plenty in common: both are graduates of the famed Club America youth system, they each won gold at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament in London last year and are also considered two of the most talented players to have emerged in Mexico in recent years. The only thing missing from their seemingly parallel careers was to start a competitive senior match for their country together.
That achievement was chalked off the list against Japan at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013. In Mexico’s competition farewell, the pair demonstrated why many view them as potential spearheads for a new generation of players to guide their nation forward at future major tournaments.
The duo were the last member’s of Mexico’s squad to leave the changing rooms following their victory, and despite the post-game fatigue, they nevertheless stopped for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Jimenez and Reyes have known each other most of their lives. Despite the one year age difference - the former is the older of the two - they were inseparable in the Club America youth set-up. Back then neither would have dared dream that they would one day be in Mexico’s starting line-up together. “We’ve been friends for a long time and getting the chance to relive those good times with the national team is incredible,” said 22-year-old striker Jimenez. Almost instantly, his defensive compatriot completes his sentence for him: “We always dreamed of wearing this shirt and to be able to do it together is fantastic:”
Given their age and lack of top-level international experience, the youngsters could have been forgiven for finding the Estadio Mineirao somewhat intimidating, yet they handled the occasion like seasoned veterans. Jimenez and Reyes may only have 11 and seven senior caps respectively, but their rise through Mexico’s various youth sides stood them in good stead in Belo Horizonte. “The fact that it’s been a long road to the top has helped us a lot,” said Reyes. “Even though we played at youth level, you still know what it means to pull on the green shirt and that experience was vital for us.” Jimenez agreed: “It helps you to hit the ground running. Our success at the Olympic Games helped us to deal with the pressure that comes with it all, with the sold-out stadiums that you get with the senior side.”
Unsurprisingly, having had a taste of life with the seniors, the pair are eager for more. Reaching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ is the next objective, although both players are aware that a return to the country in a year’s time will require a huge effort. “That’s our aim of course. We’re lucky enough to have it within reach, but we need to qualify first,” continued Reyes, who recently completed a seven-figure transfer to Portuguese side Porto.
Although Jimenez had a successful season with America, scoring nine goals on the way to winning the title, he knows he must consolidate that form next term to stand a chance of cementing a place with El Tri. “You’ve got to take it step by step,” he said confidently. “We were fortunate enough to play in this match and to win it, but we’d be wrong to think the hard work is now behind us. We need to keep proving ourselves in every match and never stop working.”
With the team bus waiting to whisk them away to their flight home after failing to reach the semi-finals at Brazil 2013, the youngsters conclude by reflecting on the tournament as a whole. “On a personal level I felt good and I had the chance to play in all three games,” said Jimenez. “As a team, while we improved as we went on, it wasn’t enough to go through, so I’m left with a bittersweet taste.”
“It wasn’t what we expected,” Reyes added. “Mexico should always be aiming higher but I don’t think we played badly and we should draw on the positives.”
While the twosome may not yet be household names, there is every indication that they soon will be, in Mexico and beyond. Their remarkable success becomes easier to understand given the revealing insights when asked to describe each other.
“Raul is a great person, a fantastic team-mate and a brother,” said Reyes. “He’s shown what he’s capable of in a very short space of time. He’s scored goals for America and today was in the starting line-up in the national team. That’s something very impressive in the amount of time he’s achieved it all in.” Their admiration is mutual: “Diego is very laid-back and modest, but out on the pitch he’s confident and always knows where to play the ball,” Jimenez concluded. “I think he’s going to have a great career in Europe and will be a star with El Tri.