Mexico is readying itself to welcome the world once more and host a FIFA World Cup™ finals for the fourth time in its history. Having laid on the biggest footballing show on Earth in 1970 and again in 1986, and hosting the U-20 event in 1983, the country is all set to stage the U-17 version of the tournament - a competition El Tri won for the first time in 2005. Discussing their chances of a repeat triumph on home soil with FIFA.com was their coach Raul Gutierrez.
“Mexico is concentrating more on the younger age categories,” he said, pointing to the shift in emphasis brought about by their victory at the U-17 World Cup in Peru in 2005.
“Ever since then a lot of teams have completely overhauled their youth set-ups, something that’s gone hand in hand with the U-17 and U-20 tournaments they’re holding here now. It’s a development process and that says a lot about the work that’s been done at club level,” added the coach, a former Mexico international and a man fully aware of the stresses and strains that face his young charges.
Gutierrez’s youngsters will have to cope with the added pressure of playing in front of their own fans, a challenge he believes his side are equipped to handle: “Being the host means taking on a lot of responsibility. It’s a commitment to the whole country because you have to make an investment and expectations are generated. We’ve taken it all on board though, and our goal is to do a good job.”
A national passion
While some teams put the emphasis on organisation and others on enterprising attacking football, Gutierrez believes his Mexico is made of different stuff altogether “Mexicans are passionate people and we are part of that passion, which is a great passion," he said with a smile. "This team has character. They never know when they’re beaten and they fight to the end.”
Standing between the Mexicans and a place in the next round at “their” finals are Korea DPR, Congo DR and the Netherlands. “It sounds trite to say they’re all tough teams and that you need to beat everyone to be champions but it’s true,” added Gutierrez. “So my feeling is we’re in a group we can win but where we’ll also have questions asked of us.”
After years of planning and hard work the time has come for Mexico to produce results, and their coach believes his teenage stars can go out and get them: “Our dream is to be the champions and we’re going to go for it game by game. That’s the objective.”