American twist to Mexican tale
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Expected to find the going very tough at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, Mexico got their campaign off to a promising start with an exciting 3-3 draw against Asian champions Japan. And it could have been even better for El Tri, who led their Group C rivals 3-1 at the interval.

Underlining their achievement is the fact that Mexico lost eight of nine previous matches at the competition spanning the 2002, 2006 and 2008 finals, with their solitary victory a 4-2 win over Switzerland in Russia four years ago. “I’m happy with this result,” said coach Roberto Medina after the game. “Of course we could have won the game, but a draw against Japan is always positive. The players’ confidence will be boosted by this match.”

Scouting for girls
In a bid to improve Mexico’s strength in depth, coach Medina has worked with Leonardo Cuellar, who is in overall charge of the country’s women’s national teams, on carrying out a host of trials for potential new players across both Mexico and USA. The results are there for all to see in Germany, with ten US-based players drafted into the U-20 squad alongside established domestic-based performers such as Charlyn Corral, Stephany Mayor and Cecilia Santiago.

Of the ‘American’ contingent, it is Alina Garcia-Mendez of Stanford University who boasts the lengthiest involvement in Los Aztecas’ colours, having also taken part at the global U-20 showpiece in Chile in 2008. “We’ve improved in a lot of ways over the last two years. We’ve got more experience here at Germany 2010 and we’re better prepared for winning games,” said the defender, born in Dallas to Mexican parents.

“My parents and my brothers and sisters really encouraged me to play football as a youngster, and now they’re really pleased to see me playing for Mexico.”

Renae Cuellar, for her part, is one of the newer arrivals from the other side of the Rio Bravo. “My grandparents are Mexican and it’s thanks to them that I can play for El Tri. It’s something that I’m really proud of,” said the University of Arizona forward, scorer of Mexico’s opening goal against Japan.

“I’m very pleased to have got on the scoresheet, it’s just a shame it wasn’t enough for us to win. I’m also sad to have scored an own goal,” added the 20-year-old Californian, who put through her own net from a corner after 64 minutes. “We’ll have to iron out a few flaws before our next games, because England play skilful football and the Nigerians are very quick.”

Yet another player with an intriguing back story is defender Kenti Robles, who emigrated from Mexico City with her family at the age of eight to live in Spain. “I’d never played football until I met some people from Barcelona side Espanyol, and I’ve come up the ranks with them all the way to the first team,” said the youngster, part of the Espanyol team which finished runners-up in both the league and Copa de la Reina last season.

“The Spanish league is very competitive and technically the standard is very high. It was (former Mexican full international) Maribel Dominguez, who plays for another women’s Superliga side, who recommended me to coach Cuellar, and he soon called me to come for a trial,” added Robles, whose team’s next opponents are England in Augsburg on 17 July. Up against the 2009 European U-19 champions, can Cuellar’s diverse group of talents extend their unbeaten start here on German soil?