If football captaincy is all about character and leadership, then Antonio Briseno fulfils the job requirements to perfection. The centre-half has been a commanding presence so far at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, leading the host nation to Sunday’s final, where they will take on Uruguay, and providing no shortage of examples as to why he is a born leader.
One such instance came in the 76th minute of last Thursday’s semi-final against Germany. As his team-mates surged towards Jorge Espericueta to congratulate him on the swerving corner-kick that had just brought the hosts level at 2-2, Briseno peeled off to the goalmouth, where team-mate Julio Gomez was lying on the ground, clearly in pain. Gomez it was who had attempted to head Espericueta’s corner in from close range only to collide with a German defender. Quickly taking control of the situation and ignoring the jubilant scenes around him, Briseno alerted first the referee and then Mexico’s coaching staff, who had all been celebrating the goal.
We’ve had that label on us since the start of the tournament and we’ve shown it’s not a burden.
“I’m very proud to lead this team,” the kid they call El Pollo (The Chicken) told FIFA.com. “We’re a very united squad and I think the effort we all put in as a team was the key to beating the Germans. We’ve all worked hard to reach the final at the Azteca, which is where we all wanted to be this coming Sunday.”
Born in Guadalajara and a product of the famed Chivas production line, Briseno is still recovering from the celebrations that greeted their stunning defeat of the Germans, his voice still hoarse. “How can I explain the fact we won 3-2? It was a very even game and the difference was that we were more focused at the end than they were.”
The final hurdle
Strong in the air and quick on the ground, Briseno was nevertheless at fault for Germany’s first goal, as he himself acknowledged: “When I got the ball I never thought for a minute that he [Samed Yesil] would come from behind me and take it off me. You have to give him credit though. I told myself: ‘There’s nothing more you can do about it now’, and I just tried to get back into the game. The lesson for the Uruguay match is that we can’t afford to make any mistake.”
Briseno knows exactly what to expect when Mexico line up against La Celeste: “I think we’ve played them six times already, so we know each other well. They’re a very strong team that stop you from playing and have a lot of quality in every department. We need to keep on doing what we’ve been doing so far, and use our heads too.”
Mexico’s status as favourites for Sunday’s showdown is not a source of concern for Briseno: “We’ve had that label on us since the start of the tournament and we’ve shown it’s not a burden. We respect Uruguay but we’re the home team and we’re going to go out and play like that. We’re going to play the right way, obviously, but we’re going to show the same character we’ve shown so far.”
And though the skipper is only 17, the prospect of performing in front of a capacity crowd at Mexico’s footballing cathedral holds no fears. “Having 105,000 people cheering us on will be unforgettable and we hope to repay them by winning the title,” he said, wrapping up the chat. “Obviously we’re doing it for ourselves as well as for them. Becoming the champions will be a dream come true and the culmination of four years’ hard work with a fantastic group of players.”