Mexico meet Ireland on 5 December in a crunch showdown that will ultimately decide the fates of both teams in the FIFA World Youth Championship. Although the Mexicans need a win to move through to the next round, Tricolore central defender Joel Huiqui remains upbeat about his team's chances - providing they give full rein to their ability. FIFA.commet up with the young stopper to gauge the general feeling among the squad in the run-up to the big day.
The tall dark-haired figure of Joel Huiqui stands out majestically at the heart of the Mexican defence. Yet while this strapping lad looks every inch the part, the Mexican rearguard has failed to click as a unit since the beginning of the tournament. Huiqui has no difficulty in analysing where they have gone wrong: "I think we've been poor as a team, especially in terms of putting the ball away. And we haven’t been very surefooted in defence or organised enough to keep hold of the ball and play our own game.”
While Huiqui is realistic, well aware that getting through to the next round is going to be a very tall order, the players are certainly not in the mood to give up now: "It’s going to be tough to qualify. Côte d’Ivoire and Ireland are both on four points, and we've only got one, so we must beat the Irish to have any hope of finishing as one of the best third-placed teams. But it's down to us to get the right result on 5 December.”
The Tricolores will need to start the match strongly, especially considering they conceded goals in the first fifteen minutes against both Côte d’Ivoire and Saudi Arabia. Huiqui puts this down to first (and second) night nerves: "We were very tense in the first two games - probably too focussed on our own expectations. We really wanted to give a good account of ourselves in this World Championship, perhaps to the point where we got a bit hung up about it." But the youngster is convinced the lesson has now been learned.
The Pachuca defender hides a determined streak behind his laid-back exterior. After his parents spotted his talent for football, he landed at the big Mexican club Cruz Azul aged just 14. Huiqui sees the game in terms of "gifts" that each player exploits to the best of their ability, and his special gift is stopping opposition attackers from scoring goals. On Friday, he is anticipating a stern test in the form of Stephen Eliott, who already has three goals to his credit in the competition. "There’s no miracle solution for stopping Eliott, as I think all the defences here will find. You have to get close and stop the service into him, that way he has no chance of scoring," he analyses.
Hope springs eternal
Although he insists he has great respect for Ireland, he is hoping that his team can get the better of them on Friday. "The Irish compete hard for every ball. Their defence is maybe not the quickest, but it's still very solid. Up front, they're very quick and know how to put the ball away. The match will be very tight given that we have to win to keep our chances of progressing alive, and they also have to win to make sure of qualification.”
Despite the disappointing results so far, Huiqui is not despondent and has kept sight of his goals: "We are dreaming of reaching the final of the competition. On a personal level, I want to finish as the tournament's best defender. Things are going pretty well for me for the moment, but I hope I get the opportunity to show how good I really am against Ireland.”
This Dennis Bergkamp and Davor Suker fan admits to having clear ambitions beyond the current tournament: "I would like to be a big player, the kind that wins trophies and stands out from the crowd. Playing in Italy or in another major championship is something that would appeal to me.”
Right now though, Huiqui is just concentrating on getting past the first round of the FIFA World Youth Championship, something the youngster repeats incessantly as though persuading himself of its importance. However, the defender does let slip that time is beginning to drag a little: "You do get a bit bored, because we don't often get out of the hotel. You can surf the internet or phone your family, but apart from that we just watch television and listen to music together. It's quite hard being so far away from your country as you begin to miss your routine," he says, before adding hastily: "But you just get on with it. I mean, it's not every day you get the chance to play in a World Championship!”
Huiqui hails from the small town of Sinaloa in Los Mochis province and is very proud of his Mayan roots, although he prefers to be discreet about it. However, he is prepared to reveal that in his local dialect, his name simply means "eagle". All that remains is to see whether this eagle helps land Mexico in the Round of Sixteen come the final whistle this Friday.