After their surprising but well deserved qualification for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™, the Mexican national team have been following a rigorous programme of preparation that includes international tournaments, training camps and a host of friendly matches.
For Las Tricolores and their coach Leonardo Cuellar, no stone is being left unturned as they aim to make history at what will be their second appearance at women’s football’s showpiece event. With his preparations continuing apace ahead of the kick-off in June, the man at the helm took time out for an exclusive chat with FIFA.com.
On the day of our interview, the Tricolores coach was busy finalising details ahead of his side’s trip to Cyprus, where they will compete against some of the world’s top sides later this month in the 2011 Cyprus Cup. “We started our World Cup preparations on 6 February with our first training camp, where we managed to get 20 of the players together," he explained. "Some attend on weekends only and the rest are there full time. Things have been going well so far, with plenty of enthusiasm and commitment, and the atmosphere is great. We’ve had two very good weeks of training, and in the last few days we’ve been working on our football with a view to a good showing in Cyprus."
So what is he hoping to get out of that forthcoming tournament? “We’re in a group with Russia, South Korea and Northern Ireland, and we’re guaranteed a fourth game against a rival to be decided," said the 57-year-old coach. "So it will allow us to start finding our rhythm, which is essential, and run the rule over some squad members who didn’t take part in the qualifiers for Germany 2011 with an eye to their inclusion in the squad for the finals. It will also give us a look at England and New Zealand, who will be two of our [group] rivals in Germany, as they’re also taking part."
Every day I cross my fingers and pray that our players stay injury-free so we can compete with our strongest side. That’s the biggest risk.
Cuelllar is already aware of the calibre of the group rivals he will face in Germany. “They’re three of the game’s top sides: Japan are ranked fourth in the world, while England are one of tournament favourites and boast several big-name players, one of the best infrastructures anywhere in the women’s game and the new Super League. New Zealand have come on in leaps and bounds, even if their qualification zone means they don’t always get the credit they deserve. We respect all three teams and recognise their standing, but we’re not inferior to them."
*A former international midfielder who represented Mexico at the 1978 FIFA World Cup™ in Argentina, Cuellar is upbeat about his side’s chances, while admitting that much will depend on how they fare against England in their opening game. “After that match, we’ll have a better idea of what’s needed to reach the next round, and we will adapt our plan accordingly," he said. "That’s the way we did it at the U-20 World Cup (in Germany last year), and we’ll base it on the same strategy again. We’ll have seven or eight players in the squad who were there, and their experience will be fundamental."
*Desire to make history
*Cuellar has been in charge of the Mexico women’s teams for more than a decade and, as such, has seen a host of players come and go. So what is different about the crop he will take to Germany? “We have a team now that has a lot more balance and rhythm, and that has adapted better to the rigours of international competition. What’s more, we have a different mindset – one with more confidence and less fear. We’re relishing this chance to do well and hope new leaders will emerge to take the team forward in the coming years."
His side’s shock defeat of USA in the qualifying tournament has raised expectations considerably in Mexico, something Cuellar says is both a source of pride and responsibility. “This team have generated a lot of interest, so much so that various TV channels are already in negotiations to broadcast our games live from Germany. It will be a great opportunity to show the whole country just what we can do.”
How well Las Tricolores fare could depend largely on their star player, Maribel Dominguez, whom Cuellar will be keeping a very close eye on. “We’ll need a tailor-made programme for her, as she got injured on returning to Spain after an excellent qualifying tournament," he explained. "She looks to be on the mend, but we’ll need to monitor the situation closely to ensure she’s fully fit and able to cap her career with a good World Cup and Pan American games.”
Cuellar signs off with a fervent wish for the crucial months ahead: “Every day I cross my fingers and pray that our players stay injury-free so we can compete with our strongest side. That’s the biggest risk, as fate can intervene and there’s nothing you can do. My only wish is that our performances in Germany be dictated by our true potential and not by absentees.”