"It seems to have become a bit of a habit for our national youth teams to win tournaments, and this is making us dream," Sergio Almaguer, the Mexico U-20 coach, told FIFA.com ahead of his side's opening match at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2013 on 22 June.
El Tricolor go into Turkey 2013 amid growing expectation. Mexico's U-23s won gold at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, while the U-17 side's world title success in 2011 is still very much fresh in the memory. With six members of the triumphant 2011 team in Almaguer's squad for the upcoming U-20 finals, there will be high hopes of yet more Mexican glory this summer.
"It really helps to have players in the squad who have already been through this experience," said Almaguer. "They are very important and play a key leadership role, but we don't want to burden them with all the responsibility for carrying us through. We've tried to use the whole team as our foundation."
"It's inevitable that we'll think about what we achieved in 2011," added midfielder Jonathan Espericueta in his own conversation with FIFA.com. "But now it's time for us to give it our all and try to win this World Cup. Our objective is to be crowned world champions, but we're going to take it step by step."
Espericueta was part of the Mexico U-17 side that triumphed on home soil in 2011, and he says that competing in his second world finals, at only 18, makes him feel "very proud and happy". He also admits, however, to feeling "nervous and anxious to start the game against Greece", who are the Mexican's opening opponents at Turkey 2013.
With Mexico having won the CONCACAF qualifying competition, many fans and rival teams now consider them among the favourites to lift the trophy in Turkey. "We know that Mexico are seen as a force to be reckoned with. We hope to be able to deal with that status and perform as best we can in the circumstances," said coach Almaguer, who is keen to deflect all pressure away from his players.
"We have to try to spare them from the pressure and take it on ourselves, so that they can concentrate completely on playing football and dealing with match situations in the best way possible," he added.
The Mexican people will also be following El Tri's progress in Turkey with great interest. Espericueta, for his part, has no problem with the added expectation, and believes it can serve as a positive influence for his team. "For us it's a source of extra motivation to know that everyone in Mexico believes in us and shows us so much support," he said. "They're always behind us and watching us, and we're not going to let them down."
Having finished third at the last FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia in 2011, Mexico will be aiming to go all the way this time around. Almaguer, however, believes it would not be a failure if his side were to miss out on the title. "A lot is made of statistics, and at the last World Cup we finished third, so expectations are high," he said. "But I think it would be seen as a success if we were to finish in the top four."
Indeed, while Mexico have reigned supreme at both U-17 and U-23 level, they have yet to top the world in the U-20 category, with their second place at Tunisia 1977 their best finish to date. Espericueta, however, believes Turkey 2013 could be the turning point: "We haven't been champions yet, but things have been going well for the national youth teams, and there always has to a moment where history changes. We can change it ourselves."
Tough opening test
Mexico are drawn in Group D for Turkey 2012, sharing the section with Paraguay, Mali and Greece. Their opening game is against the Greeks, who are competing in their first FIFA U-20 World Cup, but go into the tournament having finished runners-up at the 2012 UEFA U-19 European Championship.
"I think it will be the hardest game of the first round, as it's always difficult to get off to a good start at a World Cup," said Almaguer, who will be looking for his team to "have lots of possession, win the ball back quickly and play attractive, varied attacking football". Espericueta, for his part, believes Mexico's style is not unlike that made so famous by Spain in recent years. "To be the best and to win, you have to learn from the best," he said.
Almaguer then added that "football is all about form and we'll try to go to Turkey in the best form possible, to give ourselves hope of leaving with the title". Mexico's fans will certainly be hoping for that outcome, while Espericueta is no doubt secretly dreaming of scoring a goal of similar importance to his effort that sent El Tri into the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011.
"First let's get there and see how things unfold," Espericueta said, before concluding: "Then, if I can score another goal like that, it would be fantastic."