While football’s power to stir passions across the globe may already be widely known, the game nevertheless still has the ability to conjure up surprises. The most recent of which arrived in Abu Dhabi, where Mexican Formula 1 driver Sergio Checo Perez, who finished ninth in the city’s Grand Prix at the weekend, paid a visit to his young compatriots participating at the FIFA U-17 World Cup United Arab Emirates 2013.
Despite the fatigue after a long and, in his own words, “difficult” race, Perez still found time in his busy schedule to visit El Tri’s hotel in the country’s capital ahead of the side’s semi-final encounter against Argentina. Perez is an avid football fan, so much so that at one point in his career he was poised to give up motorsports and concentrate on making it as a professional with Club America.
“I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to come and say hello, to congratulate them and wish them all the best for their World Cup semi-final match,” Perez said. “I feel like I can identify with these boys because of the amount of effort they put in and because of the hopes they have.”
“We all have dreams and the will to win and that’s the feeling I got from the boys,” Perez told FIFA.com. “I told them that all the sacrifices they make are worth it because they’re not alone, we’re with them.
"Younger players are probably thinking: ‘It must be amazing to play at a World Cup,’ but it requires a huge effort. You’re away from home for months, preparing and concentrating on the competition. I share that with them. I hope they keep going and become world champions.”
Sky’s the limit
Perez’s visit was enjoyable for all involved and U-17 coach Raul Gutierrez presented the driver with a Mexican national team shirt, which he donned immediately. “It suits you,” said a smiling Gutierrez, who thanked Perez for visiting and for the words of encouragement he had for the squad.
After posing for photographs with the players, Perez addressed the group. “I want you to know that we all share your sacrifices, as here you are, having been away from your families for two months,” he said.
“All the sacrifices you’ve made, make them worthwhile," he went on. "When you go out on to the pitch, feel the support of your country, play with your hearts, enjoy yourselves and give everything for your country and your families. Offer it all to God because that’s the most important thing of all. I’m sure you’re going to be world champions.”
Racing commitments will prevent Perez from attending the game against La Albiceleste at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammad Bin Zayed stadium, but he will nonetheless be following the side’s progress: “I haven’t had the opportunity to see their games because I’ve been very busy, but obviously I can’t miss the semi-finals and the final. I won’t be able to go to the stadium as I have to go to England, then Mexico and then Austin (Texas) the week after that, but I’ll be watching on television.”
Perez also believes the senior Mexican side, who face New Zealand in an intercontinental play-off to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, can take inspiration from their younger compatriots: “I’m convinced they’ll qualify and I hope the seniors are really motivated. I think they can find motivation in what these boys are doing, in giving everything they’ve got out on the pitch. It’s something we can all learn from.”