• Defensive midfielder Alan Cervantes is Mexico’s captain
  • The skipper is happy to be one of his side’s unsung heroes
  • His fine performances have nevertheless thrust him into the spotlight

Mexico’s steady if unspectacular progress at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 has almost gone unnoticed. After recording a win, a draw and a defeat in the group phase and then edging past Senegal in the Round of 16, the Mexicans now find themselves in the quarter-finals, where they will face England in Cheonan on Monday. And if there is one player who typifies this hard-working Tri side, it is their industrious captain Alan Cervantes, who is going about his work with a minimum of fuss.

A key cog in coach Marco Ruiz’s system, the Guadalajara player is the archetypal holding midfielder, a player with an appetite for hard graft, who fights for the ball and then distributes it with aplomb, and who makes the Mexican machine tick while also thwarting opposition attacks.

“I really love the position,” Cervantes told FIFA.com. Sporting a bandage on his knee as protection after his most recent battles, the Tri skipper added: “It’s a vital role in any side. You help out in defence by winning the ball back and you also play a part in attack by getting the team on the front foot again. More than anything else, it’s a position in which you help others to shine.”

And that is what Cervantes’ game is all about. Unstinting in his efforts on the pitch, the defensive midfielder is a selfless performer. “I’m a hard worker,” he said, summing up his qualities. “Obviously, when I’m at ease with someone then I can relax and have a laugh, though it does take me some time. I think I’m reliable, someone whom my friends and team-mates can count on. I like helping out.”

Those qualities largely reflect the kind of player he is on the pitch. Yet though he enjoys stepping aside to let others take the limelight, no other Mexico player has caught the eye quite as much as him at Korea Republic 2017.

Out of the shadows
Cervantes has certainly upstaged his strikers. The scorers of four goals to date – fewer than six of the quarter-finalists and tied with Uruguay – Mexico have struggled for fluency. The one thing they have been, however, is effective, which is just the way their captain likes it: “We could have done better, but we’re working hard and we deserve to be here and to have the chance to up our game. And I’m the first on the list in that respect. I’m not that happy with my performances so far, though I’ve been getting better with every game. The best is yet to come. I’m certain of that.”

Mexico will most probably need to be at their best when they take on the English, who have been in impressive form throughout the competition. After finishing top of a tight Group A from Korea Republic, Argentina and Guinea, they then beat Costa Rica 2-1 in the last 16. Assessing Mexico’s next challenge, Cervantes said: “We respect them but I believe in us and in what we can do. We want to be world champions and I see this match as nothing else but a stepping stone to the final.”

Though Cervantes is happy to largely go unnoticed, that does not mean to stay he is totally averse to taking acclaim: “I know this tournament is a chance for us to attract attention and show what we can do, but we’re not there yet. We still have some way to go and plenty of work to get through.”