A painful defeat by fierce rivals USA in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup notwithstanding, Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez has every reason to be satisfied. Having guided the Tricolor to third place at the Copa America 2007, the former international's methods were strongly vindicated by the team's achievements on Venezuelan soil.
One of the outstanding performers in that campaign was Nery Castillo, a lethal combination of skill, speed and goalscoring ability, whose Copa displays earned him admirers the length and breadth of planet football. Look no further than his strike against eventual winners Brazil in Mexico's opening game: a nimble dink over a defender before finishing delightfully under pressure from the Auriverde backline.
Castillo was born on 13 June 1984 in the Mexican city of San Luis Potosi, where his father, a Uruguayan professional, was playing for local side San Luis Potosino. The family returned to South America soon after, and Nery would spend most of his formative years there. It was in Uruguay that Castillo took his first steps on the footballing ladder, making his debut at the age of just 15 for Montevideo outfit Danubio.
His talents were soon recognised further afield, and before long Castillo had accepted an offer from Greek giants Olympiacos. Such were his displays for the Athens outfit that Greece, Mexico and Uruguay actively sought to have the gifted attacker represent them. Castillo finally plumped for El Tri in late 2006, fully aware that when the moment came, the pressure would be on to prove he was worth the wait. His opportunity arrived at Venezuela 2007 and he took it with both hands, top scoring for Mexico with four goals and helping fire Sanchez's team to a place on the podium.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Castillo gives his side of a remarkable story and analyses Mexico's prospects for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa.
FIFA.com: Senor Castillo, Mexico madea huge splash at the Copa America but fell short of winning
the title. How did that feel?
Nery Castillo: I felt sad because I was really excited about the possibility of winning the Copa with this team, and also the Gold Cup we played in a few weeks ago. We weren't able to be crowned champions but I'm at ease with myself because I know that I gave it everything and the rest of the squad did too. Even so, I think we could have gone even further. They were times when we played better than any other team in the competition and we were the most consistent. So, third place is a good achievement but we deserved more.
Was it more painful to lose the final of the Gold Cup
That's already consigned to the past. What hurts the most now is having lost against Argentina and not being able to make the final, but even that's old news. We can't be thinking about all that, we need to focus on the future that awaits us all.
What can Mexico do to match the likes of
There needs to be more Mexicans playing in Europe, because the experience they'd gain would improve the national team. That's why it's a good thing that players like (Andres) Guardado and several more will be getting playing time in European football.
Do you think three years is enough time to turn Mexico into
contenders for the next FIFA World Cup?
Yes, because Hugo Sanchez has shown that he can build a good team in a very short space of time. We need to be patient and have faith in the efforts of those in charge of the national team if we want to get there (South Africa) and do great things.
The international press acclaimed you as one of the stars
of the Copa America. How does that feel?
Very satisfying. It's nice that both the fans and the press value my work in such a way.
Do you feel on a par with the world's best players
No... There are very few elite or truly phenomenal players. I just try to play as well as I possibly can.
How was life with the Mexican national team? What were your
It's a tremendous squad. Everybody has welcomed me warmly, starting with Hugo, who opened the door to the national team for me. Also the coaching staff, the masseurs, the physio... They are like one big family and I've already got a great deal of affection for them.
You mentioned Hugo Sanchez. How do you get on with
He's like a mentor to me. He was a phenomenal player, that's why I admired him. On top of that, he's a great guy who deserves all my respect.
After Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored against Paraguay, the pair
of you did a celebratory dance. Where did you get the idea
(Laughs) The truth is we invented it in a casino. After winning at black jack we did a little dance, Cuau christened it the Chucu Chucu and we agreed to do it again if we scored a goal...
Many Mexicans see you as Blanco's ideal successor in
the No10 shirt. How do you rate him?
He's got a very similar personality to me. He's a very good team-mate, he helps loads of people. When I first joined up with the national team I asked to share a room with him because I wanted to get to know him, he was my favourite Mexico player. I love how he plays and that's why we became such good friends.
Mexicoplayed every game at the Copa America with the majority of
the fans on their side. Were you surprised to see so many Mexico
supporters had made the journey?
Yes, I was, because Mexico isn't all that close to Venezuela. But that goes to show that the national team have a great set of supporters that we must always strive to satisfy.
You left to play in Europe at a very young age. Do you
think that has aided your footballing development?
No doubt about it. Because I've been at Olympiacos since I was 15, now I'm 23 I've already got six championship medals and played in two European Champions League campaigns.
Mexicosupporters are anxious to see you play alongside U-20
starlets Giovanni Dos Santos and Carlos Vela. What do you make of
They are both tremendous players, who are performing superbly even at such a tender age. They also have a very good attitude. I agree with those who say it would be nice to see the three of us line up together, but that decision's up to Hugo.
How do you see yourself in three years' time, after the
FIFA World Cup in South Africa?
I'd love to imagine myself as a world champion. But, because there's still such a long way to go, I'd rather say I imagine myself playing in that World Cup, because it'll be tough to get there.