Almost six years after they gave Mexico its maiden world title at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005, Jesus Ramirez’s so-called “Golden Generation” are still fondly remembered by fans the length and breadth of the country.
Now, just four months before the latest edition of the tournament, to be hosted as it happens in Mexico, one of the stars of that all-conquering side, Giovani dos Santos, talked exclusively to FIFA.com about his memories of the grand occasion. The Racing Santander forward also spoke of what the tournament meant for his career and what his compatriots can expect when they take to the field for the showpiece event in June.
The seeds of success
When Mexico arrived in Peru in 2005, Dos Santos was a promising young player, though still relatively unknown on the world stage. A standout figure in Barcelona’s youth teams after moving to Catalonia at the tender age of 14, it was only after inspiring his side to glory in South America that his true potential became apparent.
Asked what that tournament in Peru had done for his career, Gio had this to say. “It was a great beginning. Competing in a World Cup gives you a lot of experience as it exposes you to the football played by other countries and new styles. More to the point, it’s a World Cup, albeit an underage one, so a lot of football people are monitoring what’s going on in tournament of this stature.”
Afterwards, everyone went a bit crazy and welcomed us home as heroes. People would stop us in the street and congratulate us.
Arriving at the competition in Peru determined to make his mark, Dos Santos struck up a deadly strike partnership with Carlos Vela, culminating in a first world title in any category for El Tri. The young forward also picked up the adidas Silver Ball as the tournament’s second-best player, all of which paved the way for his first-team debut with Barça shortly afterwards.
Unsurprisingly, the whole adventure remains etched on Dos Santos’ memory. “Winning there was a dream come true and simply unforgettable, most of all because it’s the only world title in our history. Afterwards, everyone went a bit crazy and welcomed us home as heroes. People would stop us in the street and congratulate us. Being able to bring such joy to people was brilliant,” he recalls.
Who better then to advise his young compatriots as they seek to emulate the class of 2005 later this year on home soil? “The players need to make the most of the opportunity,” says the 21-year-old, before adding: “They’ll be playing at home in front of packed stadiums, where everyone will be supporting them. Everything will be in their favour. If they’re good enough to be in the team, they will doubtless possess the quality and desire to get ahead. What’s more, it will be a wonderful opportunity for them to showcase their talents to leading clubs, although just being there is a major step for any youngster looking to make it in the game.”
Since Peru 2005, Dos Santos has participated in two other FIFA World Cups, first with the U-20s at Canada 2007, then at senior level in South Africa last year. It is a trajectory the player insists had its roots in that maiden U-17 adventure. “Peru allowed me to accrue international experience and see different ways of playing. The feeling you get when you play for your senior team at a World Cup is indescribable and like nothing I felt before. That said, my time with the U-17s prepared me for it, as it taught me how to deal with pre-match nerves and the expectations of an entire country. Without doubt it was a great learning experience,” he says.
If El Tri need any further motivation, then surely the prospect of running out at the iconic Estadio Azteca, the venue for the final and match for third place, will provide it. “It’s another incentive for sure – for any player, let alone a Mexican,” says Dos Santos. “To run out on a pitch of such symbolism and where Diego Maradona, for me the greatest player in history, reigned supreme is a great opportunity. It’s down to the players now to make the most of it,” he concluded.