Cast your mind back to 16 September 2005 and the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru, as Mexico embarked on a campaign that would eventually bring the country its first ever world title. Among the side that faced Uruguay that evening was a fresh-faced Carlos Vela, who announced his arrival on the world stage by scoring the opening goal of the competition.
In the intervening two years, a lot has changed for the player who scooped a winner's medal and the adidas Golden Shoe in Peru. With his accent less pronounced, the result of his move to Europe, the former Chivas striker now appears much more composed and mature. The same could also be said of his play, with the 18-year-old doing his best to help bring another world title back to Mexico.
"We're having a good championship, and the team's playing at a very high level. We've been winning tough games and are already in the quarter-finals, so we've no complaints," he tells FIFA.com. However, when the talk turns to his own performance, Vela is much more critical: "I can't lie. I'd like to have performed a bit better. I'm here to get goals for the team, but I haven't been able to do that so far. Hopefully, I can put that right in our next game," he said.
The forward has gone 294 minutes without scoring in Canada, something you would have got long odds on at the start of the tournament. With El Tri facing fellow title contenders Argentina, the defending champions, in their upcoming quarter-final, Vela is anxious to bring his goal-drought to an end.
"I can't tell you anything you don't already know about Argentina. They're a very strong side with big-name players. Take Aguero for example. I really like his game, and we're going to have to be very careful with him. From a personal viewpoint, I hope to score, but failing that, I'll settle for a win," says Vela, who is currently playing his football on loan at Spanish side Salamanca.
Yet despite his admiration for El Kun, the youngster believes Mexico have their own ace in the hole in the form of Giovanni Dos Santos, El Tri's leading scorer thus far in Canada. "What can I tell you about him. He's a superb player and in a league of his own. If he carries on like this, he's going to go a very long way. Hopefully things will continue to go well for him, which would also mean things going well for us."
A rare privilege
At the age of 18, Vela has already achieved something none of his Mexican footballing heroes ever managed: a world title. And if that were not impressive enough, the livewire striker is aiming to repeat the feat less than two years after he and his team-mates sparked nationwide celebrations with their win in Peru.
"Those of us who were in that U-17 squad know what if meant to the people back home. Now we want to win another world title for the personal satisfaction it would give us, and for the joy it would bring to the Mexican people," he says with a glint in his eye. "It would be a dream come true. I never thought I could be a (world) champion at such a young age, and now we have a chance to repeat that achievement with the U-20s. There aren't many teams that do that, right? Very few are fortunate enough to win World Cups."
Vela admits that the squad coach Jesus Ramirez has assembled is like one big family, in which everyone knows and supports each other unconditionally. "Spending so many years together has helped build up a solid base of mutual trust. We do everything together and we all know what our roles are. That togetherness is visible on the pitch," he adds.
That spirit of togetherness will be vital during the team's tough quarter-final fixture against Argentina this Sunday, a match which the player feels will be won by the team that is "most focused and with the greatest desire to win". As for Vela, the striker is no longer dreaming of goalscoring awards in Canada, saying: "I just want to be champion; that's all that matters to me now."