Cuellar: We're on the right track

The world has grown accustomed to seeing Mexico achieve big things in recent years. The country’s men and women have become regular fixtures at world finals of late, all of which places ever-increasing demands on the new generations. As far as El Tri are concerned, being the giants of the CONCACAF Zone is no longer enough. Conquering the world is now their goal.

The latest Mexico side to step up to the global stage are the women’s U-17s, coached by Christopher Cuellar, the son of the country’s national women’s team boss Leonardo Cuellar. His charges are about to embark on their journey at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012, and though the demands and expectations placed on them may vary to those faced by his father’s sides, they share the same desire to succeed as they go in pursuit of their own specific objectives.

Discussing those goals and more, Cuellar Jr spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.

The first step
The most recent benchmark for his young hopefuls came at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012, where Las Aztecas reached the second round before being edged out by Nigeria. Reluctant to make comparisons, however, Cuellar believes the U-20 and U-17 teams are at very different stages of their development.

“What the U-20s did was just another process in their learning curve,” he said. “Those girls all had previous World Cup experience, either with the U-17s or the U-20s, and two of them had even played in the senior World Cup. It’s a motivation for us, but you can’t make any comparisons. This World Cup will help us continue with the process of training the national youth teams.”

Cuellar, who started out as a volunteer women’s coach in 2005, has gone to every length to get Las Tricolores into the best possible shape for Azerbaijan 2012, and is happy with the progress they have made to date.

We’re already focused on the opening match against the New Zealanders, which is going to dictate how the tournament goes for us.
Christopher Cuellar, Mexico coach

“Our preparations went well,” he explained. “We had three get-togethers through the summer, each of them lasting 16 days. Then we went on a tour of Colombia, where we played five games. After that we had a one-month training camp, and we then played Belgium and the Netherlands just before setting off for Azerbaijan. The Mexican FA have helped us an awful lot with our preparations and I’m very grateful for that.”

Drawn into a daunting group that features two world powers in Brazil and Japan, as well as New Zealand, the Mexicans will certainly need to be at their best.

“It’s difficult but not impossible,” said Cuellar, weighing up the task. “They are three different styles of play, but we’ve got information on all the teams. We’re already focused on the opening match against the New Zealanders, which is going to dictate how the tournament goes for us. Judging by the videos I’ve seen, I think the four teams are pretty evenly matched.”

Total dedication     
El Tri have qualities of their own, however. As Cuellar explained, his side possess the talent commonly associated with Mexican players and an awareness of what is required in a very competitive age group: “What we’re looking to do is combine the physical and the technical. We’ve had to work on our athleticism to be able to compete with the region’s big teams and win the one-on-one duels with the taller players of the USA and Canada.

“And then, we’ve got some very skilful players, as we’ve always had, which makes for a good combination. That means we can play a direct game or try to get in between the opposition’s lines.”

The search for that talent has not been easy. The lack of a grassroots structure for U-17 women’s football in Mexico has forced Cuellar and his staff to adopt some unorthodox methods to unearth players.

“We watched the National Olympics in the various age categories in Mexico and the USA, where there’s a very large Mexican population, with girls up against the best in their age groups,” he said, with obvious enthusiasm in his voice. “We’ve even had open days for players who want to come and have a trial. Our office also receives emails from a lot of girls from all over the country. That’s how Samantha Arellano, who’ll be with us now in Azerbaijan, came to us.”

The Mexicans are not lacking in optimism as they prepare to step out against the world’s best. They also have their feet firmly on the ground, however, which is vital if they are to make strides in a category in which they are aiming to stick around.

“The FMF (Mexican Football Association) is very interested in creating the best possible structure so that we can pick out and develop the country’s talented players,” said Cuellar, mapping out the future. “We’re still very much in the formative stages in terms of the work we do with the national youth teams. The talent is there. We just need the right system to exploit it. Everyone’s willing, though, and we’re on the right track, no question.”