Mexico pair step into limelight
When the FIFA Confederations Cup kicked off on 15 June, Carlos Salcido and Gonzalo Pineda were almost completely unknown outside of their native Mexico.
The young defenders, competing in their first overseas tournament with the senior Mexican team, knew only too well that when people spoke about the steely Tricolor rearguard, they were invariably referring to defensive stalwarts Rafael Marquez and Salvador Carmona.
But two weeks is a long time in football, and the picture has changed dramatically. Mexico's performances here at Germany 2005, and in particular that of their formidable defence, have helped make Salcido and Pineda household names.
While the former reduced Ronaldinho to a peripheral figure in their clash with Brazil and scored against Argentina after a 60-yard dribble, the latter managed to thwart Argentina's Juan Roman Riquelme and score his side's fifth spot-kick with the cheekiest of chips in their nerve-wracking semi-final shoot-out. Both players shared with FIFAworldcup.com the tide of emotions they have experienced at this enthralling tournament.
A passion to succeed
In Salcido's case, the first item on the agenda is his goal his first for the national side and one that saw him weave through the entire Argentine defence before beating German Lux in the Argentina goal. "I went past one player, then another, not really thinking about what I was doing. All I could think of was to get to the opposition goal and try and do some damage. The only bit I remember clearly was when the ball crossed the goal line."
Despite losing the semi-final to the Albiceleste, the Chivas player is pleased both with the team's and his own performances so far, and remains hungry for more. "This is the highlight of my career to date. Scoring for the national team was the best feeling in the world. Like everyone, we wanted to reach the final, but we just came up short. Now we have to keep fighting so we get third place and continue to show the world the kind of football we can play."
Salcido is aware that after his displays here in Germany his stock is on the rise. Nonetheless he remains as humble as ever. "I'm not a relative unknown. I'm a complete unknown. I have been in the side for barely six months, which is nothing. What I will say, though, is that I've had a very good tournament."
As is the case with the majority of the Mexico players, Salcido dreams of one day playing in Europe. In fact, only days ago there were reports that Turkish side Fenerbahce were interested in the centre-back. The Guadalajara man refuses to get carried away with the speculation. "That story was founded purely on press rumours. Nobody has approached me so I know nothing about it. For now it doesn't concern me at all."
That said, the Mexico No3 is confident he can produce the goods no matter where he plays. "You have seen it for yourself. The entire side play good football and each and every one of us has the quality to play anywhere in the world."
A explosive revelation
As for Pineda, he was not a first-choice defender when he arrived at Germany 2005. The Pumas player, held in high esteem by Lavolpe for his ability to fill various positions, was nonetheless considered to be too young and inexperienced to play anything more than a bit part.
As it turned out, the Mexico No14 came on as a second-half substitute against Japan and made such an impression that he has been an ever-present since. His versatility has allowed him to play on the left flank, in the centre of defence and even as a defensive midfielder. He has been impressive wherever he has been deployed and against Argentina gave what was probably his best performance yet for his country.
Not afraid to dream, the youngster can already imagine himself coming back to Germany in a year's time for the FIFA World Cup finals. "I'm thrilled to have been given this opportunity, which I've tried to take advantage of. Ending up in the starting XI is a huge motivation for me. The World Cup is just a year away and we're getting closer to achieving great things all the time. The whole team has done really well. Maybe in 12 months' time, we'll be able to achieve something historic for Mexico."
Pineda also harbours ambitions of playing in Europe. "Of course I'd love to play there. In fact, it's one of my goals for the future. The standard of the game there and the fact that I believe I have the skills to compete make it a very attractive destination."
But first things first. Pineda is desperate for Mexico to sign off with a win in Wednesday's play-off for third place. "We have to bring the bronze medals home to Mexico," he says. "Furthermore, beating the hosts would be a great boost ahead of the next World Cup."