Gerardo Torrado is one of the symbols of the Mexico team. Ten years an international, the Cruz Azul man is now the proud bearer of the skipper's armband and intent on leading his young side to victory over the USA in Sunday's CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
On the eve of the high-stakes meeting the defensive midfielder told FIFA.com about the mood in the Mexico camp, which is determined to bring an end to a barren run of more than ten years without a win over their northern neighbours on US soil. Though the pressure of facing their deadly rivals in a continental final is intense, Torrado insists that confidence is high. "The team's fine," he confirms with a note of steely determination in his voice. "We've made a huge effort to get to this final and all we want to do now is go out and win it."
The Mexicans have certainly been made to work en route to Sunday's showpiece match. After taking a late lead against Costa Rica in a highly eventful semi-final they were pegged back in injury time before winning through on penalties. And as Torrado confirms, that win said a lot about the character of the Tricolor team.
"It was important in the sense that we never lost our way. We could have collapsed mentally after their last-minute goal but we never stopped believing we could go on and win," he said. "We were up against a very focused side that was virtually at full strength and we still managed to beat them. That shows that the team is a unit and understands what the coaching staff is trying to get through to us, something that can only help us for the final."
Leading from the front
Gerardo was only 22 when he captained his country for the first time in the final of the 2001 Copa America in Colombia, slipping on the armband in the absence of the suspended Rafael Marquez. Eight years on he remains as committed to the job as he was back then. "I'm just trying to bring my experience to bear and help out," he says, before pointing to the influence of Javier Aguirre, the man who first elevated him to the captaincy all those years ago. "He told me that my job is to make sure the team is together as one, to sort out any problems. He didn't use those exact words but that's the message that came across. My aim is to give as much of myself as I can and be there for my team-mates."
Regardless of Sunday's result, the tournament has helped Mexico's new generation gain a valuable understanding of Aguirre's methods, though Torrado is keen for them to kick on and lift the trophy. "We've spent a lot of time training with Aguirre and that's great. But now that we've reached the final we want to go on and win it. It's our duty and I really want to hold that trophy aloft."
Though Mexico and their northern neighbours have met many, many times over the years, the US side that will contest the final contains a lot of youthful faces that are unfamiliar to the men in green. So how do Torrado and his team-mates plan to overcome the young Americans? "For a start we'll need to fight like lions," he replies. "But we also need to bear in mind who we're up against and use our heads. A large part of their game is based on discipline and putting their coach's message into practice. Their tactics don't vary much but they do have tremendous discipline. The key for us is to keep our concentration and make the most of every opportunity that comes our way."
With the stage now set for the latest instalment in a gripping rivalry, all that remains to be seen is whether Captain Torrado can inspire his team-mates to end over a decade of disappointment.