Mexico's emphatic 5-0 win over USA in Sunday's CONCACAF Gold Cup final in New York might well prove to be pivotal in the career of Giovani Dos Santos. The lively Tottenham Hotspur forward, still just 20, was named man of the match for a role that included scoring the crucial second goal midway through the second half.
Indeed, it was a good couple of weeks in the USA for the prodigy, which culminated in him being named the tournament's top player having inspired El Tri to an unequalled fifth Gold Cup crown. "This result and having won the trophy will give us lots of confidence," said Dos Santos, whose running with the ball from deep positions caused the Americans fits throughout the decider in New Jersey. "We showed pride and a lot of heart."
My game is improving little by little. I'm feeling better with each game and feeling less pressure.
A starring role and an adidas Silver Ball earned in Mexico's run to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005 title launched Dos Santos, and current team-mate Carlos Vela, into the international spotlight, but his career waned both domestically and internationally before exploding back into life in the USA. A stint in Barcelona, a club he joined as a teenager, saw only intermittent opportunities with the first team, resulting in the move to White Hart Lane, with a loan spell at Championship side Ipswich Town ensuing.
Mexico's inconsistent displays over the past year, which have left them fourth in regional qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, have proved a source of pain for Dos Santos and Co, but the result at the Giants Stadium is likely to prove a springboard for a change in luck.
"I am personally very happy, I felt I was getting better and improving throughout the tournament," said Dos Santos after the defeat of USA. "My game is improving little by little. I'm feeling better with each game and feeling less pressure."
USA have undoubtedly had the edge on Mexico in recent years but Sunday's result, albeit against a significantly weakened line-up comprised largely of rarely-used and untested Americans, is set to provide Javier Aguirre's charges with a timely boost in confidence. The US claimed bragging rights in the sides' last FIFA World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, where they won 2-0 in February, but Mexico will now have added motivation and belief going into the return leg at the Estadio Azteca next month. The match, a must-win for the Mexicans, who have only ever once lost a qualifier at their fabled home, takes place in just over two weeks.
"The win over the USA was important for us in many ways," added Dos Santos. "In the eyes of the fans and media, they're going to believe a lot more after the victory. We didn't have all of our players (either), we weren't at full strength, but it doesn't matter. We were the better team. We'll enjoy this and begin to think about August 12 (qualifier against USA) almost immediately.''
We weren't at full strength, but it doesn't matter. We were the better team. We'll enjoy this and begin to think about August 12.
El Tri's legendary Stateside support was again out in force on Sunday, making up a vast contingent of a huge crowd of 79,000 at Giants Stadium. If that atmosphere was intimidating for USA - whose first team shocked the world by reaching last month's FIFA Confederations Cup final - then the atmosphere at the Azteca 15 days from now could cause players to tremble.
USA have never won a game at the Azteca, a stadium which regularly holds more than 100,000 and is perched up over 7,000 feet in the hills that surround the Mexican capital. El Tri will be trying to keep momentum going and the Americans will be desperate to reclaim their good name.
No matter what, the 5-0 result will play a critical role in what is bound to be another passionate meeting between these two old rivals, as Dos Santos understands fully. "We'll have confidence and heart from this win," he concluded. "But the game in August will be a totally different story, and we must be ready."