A very special moment for Mexican football took place on 10 July, almost a month ago. A crowd of nearly 100,000 at the legendary Azteca Stadium, where Brazil's Pele and Diego Maradona of Argentina lifted the glittering FIFA World Cup™ Trophy in 1970 and 1986 respectively, watched enthralled as El Tri won the FIFA U–17 World Cup on home soil.
The crowd packed into the venerable footballing temple, in the heart of Mexico City, included members of the U–20 national team, who are currently pursuing honours in Colombia. Coach Juan Carlos Chavez summoned his players to the Azteca so they could absorb and appreciate the atmosphere, and witness for themselves the tidal wave of joy unleashed in the country by a major triumph.
The squad members who were not present at the final, including captain Jorge Enriquez and playmaker Ulises Davila, were on duty with the senior Mexico team at the time, contesting the Copa America in Argentina. The starlets watched the action on TV, cheering on the youngest of the junior national teams.
“Watching our U-17s win the trophy was just fantastic," Enriquez told FIFA.com, smiling as he recalled the wild celebrations afterwards. The captain nicknamed Chatón said the U-17 triumph has been an additional motivating factor as he and his team-mates summon up every last reserve in pursuit of honours in Colombia: “We want to achieve exactly the same thing here. If your goal is to finish as world champions, you have to win all your matches."
Enriquez and his team have not managed that, but they have performed with credit in their first three fixtures at the prestige showdown in Colombia. They slipped to defeat by the only goal of the game in their opening game against Argentina, but shifted up a gear in a 3–0 victory over Korea DPR, with striker Taufic Guarch the pick of a hugely skilled group of players.
However, the normally ultra-dependable goal-getter wobbled in the final group game against England, missing a penalty, and then coming off second best in a one-on-one with England keeper Jack Butland. However, there were no hard feelings from the team towards 19-year-old Guarch, as the squandered penalty was forgotten immediately after the match.
“Playing here [in Cartagena] was very hard. At the end of the day, we’ve qualified for the next round, and that’s what counts,” Enriquez stated, shuddering slightly at the memory of a hot and sticky evening on the Colombian coast.
All good things come in threes
This could yet end up a uniquely successful summer for Mexican football. Even before the U–17s claimed the world crown in front of their home crowds, the senior team had come up trumps in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA, beating the hosts 4–2 in a thrilling final. The celebrations on that particular 25 June around Mexico City's most famous landmark, El Ángel de la Independencia (The Angel of Independence), will live long in the memory. Thousands took to the streets to hail their heroes - and the scenes were repeated a mere 14 days later after the FIFA U-17 World Cup triumph.
If all goes to plan for Enriquez and company, the streets will fill up again on 20 August. However, the Mexicans have a long and rocky road to travel before then, starting with a tough Round-of-16 challenge against Cameroon. “It's do or die. We now have the games that really matter," said the 20-year-old, who plays his club football for Guadalajara. The Africans finished second in their group behind Portugal. “Cameron are robust and quick, and they fight for every loose ball. However, that could open up space for us," commented Enriquez, convinced his side has what it takes to make the last eight.
And if Mexico are to go all the way to the final at El Campin in Bogota on 20 August, a total of three opposing sides still need to be beaten. However, memories of the hot and successful summer so far, and the prospect of one final highlight in Colombia, seem to be inspiring the Mexican players like never before. The Angel of Independence may yet be the fulcrum for a third bout of delirious national celebration.