Araujo, Mexico's straight man
© AFP

At a water-logged morning training session an hour or so outside of Toronto, the day before meeting up with mighty Portugal in what might well be the classic of the first round, Mexico captain Patricio 'Pato' Araujo took a few minutes out to chat with FIFA.com.

Behind his back a few players goof around and make jokes, but the captain hardly misses a beat. After all, it's par for the course in this likeable and lively Mexican squad that have been labelled the 'golden generation' after winning the world U-17 title in Peru two years ago.

"They are a bit of a cheeky lot," the player says with a smile. "They're always goofing around and making jokes...it's a constant thing." The team coach driver, born in Uruguay but now settled in multi-cultural Toronto, confirms the rascally spirit in the Mexico team. "You can't turn your back on them for a minute, they're always smiling and having fun and carrying on."

It's true to an extent, but when training time rolls around it's all business for El Tri. Each practice is conducted in the utmost professionalism, with very little wasted time spent on unnecessary instruction or chatter.

"It's about being free to play well"
Both the driver and Araujo agree almost instantly on the biggest joker in the pack - one Cesar Villaluz of Cruz Azul. The diminutive forward they call 'Chiquito' (or little boy) looks the part too, with a guilty smirk plastered on his face. "He's the worst of the lot," says captain Patricio of famous club side Chivas Guadalajara with the broad grin of a proud older brother.

"He may make a lot of jokes and be a handful, but he's a serious player too," Araujo insists with admiration about Villaluz who sits on a ball about 30 yards away sporting flashy red boots. "Giovanni (dos Santos of Barcelona) and Carlos (Vela) became big stars when we won the U-17 World Cup in 2005, but he (Villaluz) could be the one to really make a mark at these finals in Canada."

The captain continued on admiringly about the good attitude of the squad: "We try to be happy and light and we are really enjoying this tournament. Why should we be serious all the time? Football is supposed to be fun, and I have been playing with these same guys since I was thirteen years old. We are all like the best of friends. It's not about being hard and nervous, it's about being free to play well."

All business
In a team of outstanding attacking talents and precocious personalities, Araujo plays the straight man, and he commands great respect from his team-mates. His position, too, is a touch less glamorous. He is the perfect stopper, a defensive midfielder with tremendous vision and an ability to read of the game. He starts every attack by feeding the ball to the danger men and snuffs out attacks coming the other way with a calm of someone well older than 19.

After shutting out Gambia 3-0, Mexico and their steady-headed captain face up to Portugal in Toronto on Thursday in a top-of-the table clash. The winner will more than likely book their place in the last sixteen.

"Portugal have some incredibly dangerous players in attack," said Araujo with an air of sudden seriousness and gravity. "We will have to be very careful in how we approach the game."

Patricio, who broke into the Chivas first team in 2006 and played every match in the Guadalajara giants' race to the their eleventh Apertura title, seems a captain through-and-through. And fitting in perfectly with the spirit of a good skipper, Araujo, who was also captain of the world-beating U-17s from two years ago in Peru, sees no difference between himself and his mates.

"As captain, I will make sacrifices for the team and try my best all the time," said the man who holds Mexico and Barcelona stalwart Rafa Marquez as his idol. "The way I see it though, I am no more important than anyone else. They are all wonderful and they are all captains!"

With the perfect blend of grace and grit, cheek and professionalism, Mexico and her sturdy skipper will be keen to take one step closer to another world title.