For most players at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2009™, being surrounded by players of their own age is par for the course. For Victor Manon, however, a month with his national team in Nigeria is a rejuvenating experience, as the El Tri forward is more used to the company of senior players at his club side Pachuca.
Having been the youngest-ever player in Mexico’s top league, Manon hopes to go down in Mexican football's history books for a second time by lifting the FIFA U-17 World Cup on 15 November. But before that, El Tri will have to overcome Korea Republic in the last 16.
A few days before their first knockout match, FIFA.com caught up with the forward, who was still all smiles despite a tough group stage. "We're happy because we achieved our first goal," he admits with relief after their final Group B match against Japan, which sealed their qualification. "It wasn’t easy, particularly after we lost our first match to Switzerland. But we got there through our hard work and commitment."
To everyone's surprise, the young Aztecas were given a lesson in tactics and efficiency by the Swiss in their opening game, losing 2-0. Although first regarded as a huge disappointment, the result was later put into perspective after Switzerland went on to beat Japan and Brazil. "I’m not surprised. They are a strong, well-organised team who can score at any time from a set piece, as we found to our cost," says the Tuzo centre-forward. "What's more, they're very athletic. Maybe some of our players aren't as well developed physically, which was the difference between the two teams."
Against more technical teams like Brazil and Japan, El Tri were able to play to their full potential, recording 1-0 and 2-0 wins respectively. Surely this is a good omen ahead of their Round of 16 clash against the Koreans, who have a similar playing style to Japan, but Manondoes not see this as an advantage. "Now is the moment of truth. It doesn't matter who we're up against, we can only depend on ourselves. If we win, we're still on track, if we lose, we're going home."
Sensible words though they may be, this restraint is a world away from the opinions of the fans back home, who are already dreaming of seeing their team follow in the footsteps of their 2005 colleagues, who were world champions at Peru 2005. "How could I forget that? I saw it live on TV," says the No10 when asked about the golden generation which won Mexico's only ever world title. "It was truly a great side, with players like Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela. We know that we can achieve what they did, but there's still a long way to go. We still haven't won anything, we can't let up."
One goal at a time
Manonis no stranger to high-pressure situations, having made his top-tier debut with Pachuca at the tender age of 15 years and 7 months, against Cruz Azul in September 2007. Since then, he has been a first-team regular and even scored his first goal on 5 September last. This experience could prove extremely valuable to El Tri in the upcoming knockout stages. "Some people might think that, but it's not true," says Mañón, who is a big fan of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "No matter what club or league they're playing in, each player in the tournament has the same goal: to be champions. And of course, I'm no exception."
If he does achieve this goal, Manon already has his next one lined up. "We all know that this tournament is an excellent shop window for anyone wanting to play in Europe. Personally, I dream of playing with Arsenal in the Premier League." So the scouts will do well to keep an eye on the Mexican No10 next Thursday at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi – they won’t be disappointed.