The final whistle sounds at Peru 2005, and 18 youngsters in green and white sprint towards the centre circle to celebrate a historic victory. One of them, a curly-haired 16-year-old by the name of Carlos Vela, has dual cause for celebration. Not only is the Mexico No9 the winner of the adidas Golden Shoe as tournament top-scorer, but he and his team-mates have just won their country's first ever world title.
Those images from two years ago in Peru remain etched on the memories of millions of Mexicans, who hold a special place in their heart for the "Boy Wonders" who swept all before them at the last FIFA U-17 World Cup. Held in particularly high regard is Vela, the team's inspirational striker and top marksman, who only months after his world triumph was transferred to English giants Arsenal.
Now, almost two years after that historic achievement, this "golden generation" of Mexican footballers are faced with an even more difficult challenge: to win the U-20 world title at Canada 2007. With the experience gained after a season in Europe, where he is currently on loan with Spanish side Salamanca, the striker tells FIFA.com about his hopes and dreams for this summer's tournament and the year ahead.
The hopes of a nation
The gifted forward, who only turned 18 last March, is aware of how much store his country has placed in his generation and is anxious not to disappoint them in Canada. "I'm really looking forward to the possibility of playing at another World Cup. We want to perform like we did in Peru and bring joy to the public once more. We think about that all the time, and we'll try to achieve it."
Nonetheless, Vela does not want too much pressure heaped on the team. He recognises they will start as many people's favourites in Canada, but does not accept that El Tricolor have an obligation to repeat their success of two years ago. "It will be different [this time]. The standard of play is higher, and there will be other players taking part who weren't at Peru 2005. We don't feel under pressure; we just feel hopeful and determined to do things right once again. If that brings us another title, excellent, but we're not obsessing about it."
Whatever Vela might say, Mexico look capable of troubling any opponent, particularly on the evidence of the CONCACAF qualifying phase in Culiacan, which they sailed through without ever exerting themselves. "I really liked the team we had in Culiacan. There's a lot of quality in it, and the competition for places makes it very interesting. Those of us who continued on [from the U-17s] have a couple of years more experience now, and we also have some new players in the side who are first class."
After Peru 2005, Carlos Vela was one of three members of the title-winning side to pack his bags and move to the old continent. Unable to secure a work permit to play for his new side Arsenal, the player went on loan to Spain's Celta Vigo and later Salamanca, who this season proved to be the revelation of the second division thanks in no small measure to the young Mexican.
The player has no regrets about the move and is optimistic about the future. "In the beginning it was a little hard, but now I've fully adapted. It's a different country and a different kind of football, but the people here have been wonderful. Thanks to them I'm a much more complete player and ready to keep on progressing."
Vela is not one to hide his ambition and feels the time is right for him to play first-division football - hopefully with Arsenal. "I'd love to go to London. It's my dream to make my debut with their first team and play my part. I know the coach gives plenty of opportunities to young players, so being there would be ideal. However, if that's not possible, then I'd like to play top-flight football in another major league, because I think I have the ability and experience to do it very well."
It is certainly not a lack of interest from Arsenal that is stopping Vela joining up with the Gunners. In fact, only recently Arsene Wenger spoke in very complimentary terms about the young man. The impediment remains a legal one, with the player still not entitled to a UK work permit. For his part, Vela is confident that this resolve itself soon enough and that he will eventually play for the London club. "I'm still hopeful, and I need to wait and see what they say after the World Cup. I wouldn't mind staying another season in Spain and furthering my preparation to join Arsenal, but I definitely don't want to spend it in the second division."
Either way, the future looks very bright for Vela, with the possibility of a second world title and a debut with a top-flight club on the horizon. What more could an 18-year-old ask for? Well there is one thing: "I'd like to go out more with my mates. I think I'm always going to feel like that - you know how you want to have a good time with people your own age. But I also know what my priorities are, and there's a time and place for everything. One day my turn will come," he says with a smile.