Miguel Sabah is the flavour of the month in Mexico. In the space of a few short months the Morelia Monarcas striker has gone from being an eternal promise to the finished article, securing a place for himself in the national side in the process.
The scorer of a vital winner in a South Africa 2010 qualifier against the USA, Sabah was on international duty again earlier this month, helping El Tri to a precious 1-0 defeat of Honduras at the Estadio Azteca.
Barely an hour after the final whistle, while the reporters covering the game were busy packing away their things, the victorious Mexico players began to file out of the changing rooms en route to their waiting cars. All of them except one that is. Making a beeline down the tunnel and straight for the journalists was none other than Sabah, the nation's new hero.
Showing a refreshing lack of self-importance, the amiable centre-forward spoke at length with the press pack, signed autographs and posed for photos. And as night continued to fall and the stadium workers hurried about their work, the unassuming Sabah gave an exclusive and wide-ranging interview to FIFA.com.
The first topic up for discussion was Mexico's narrow but hugely important victory over a stubborn Honduras side. Though delighted with the three points, it had been a frustrating evening for the striker, who got little change out of Los Catrachos's typically uncharitable defence. "It was infuriating," he said. "They really sat back on us and when that happens, you have to try everything you can as a striker. They had a lot of people in their own half and in the box, and though it wasn't easy we kept on trying and eventually got the goal we deserved."
Sabah endured an unproductive evening in front of goal, spurning two opportunities that would have sent his stock rising even further. "In that respect I'm angry with myself because they're kind of the things that can change a game," he explained. "I'm still feeling pretty relaxed, though, because it's something all strikers experience. When we played the United States it fell to me to come on and score the winner, but tonight I had some easier chances and they didn't go in. But we did what we had to do and won, which is what counts."
Despite his fruitless 90 minutes, Sabah is determined to stay upbeat, especially having worked so hard to get where he is now. "I remember watching the World Cup in Germany, and I never thought for a minute that I'd be here experiencing something like this," he said in reference to his unlikely rise to the top, a tale that FIFA.com featured only a few weeks ago. "At that time I'd never been called up to the national squad, not even for a friendly. It was all so far away that I couldn't even picture it."
The dream comes true
When it came, the change in Sabah's fortunes was dramatic. Within a few months of watching the world's best on television he went from the sidelines to the headlines, embarking on a scoring spree that has taken him all the way to the national side.
"Things started more or less at about that time. I knew I had to make the most of my opportunity whenever it came along, and it finally did at the recent Gold Cup. I finished the tournament as top scorer and since then I've just gained in confidence."
There is little danger of Sabah taking things for granted, however, as he acknowledged in typically self-effacing style. "There are lots of talented Mexican forwards and if I stop performing well then I'll be watching the World Cup at home again."
So what was the key to the sudden change in his fortunes? "Getting regular games was essential," came the reply. "I knew I could do it. I just hadn't been able to prove it. The key was playing week in and week out, going through different experiences and scoring frequently. If you don't play, you don't score. But they gave me the opportunity and that allowed me to mature and raise my game. That was the catalyst."
With the night wearing on and the stadium staff anxious to close the press zone, Sabah found time for one final observation on his career turnaround. "I don't know if it was fair or not but it was definitely very frustrating and I had to fight hard. In the end, all that fighting has got me where I am now, and it's driving me on to stay here too."
And before the stadium doors finally slammed shut, Sabah had an enlightening confession to make. "The fact is I'm not thinking about Europe. My goal is to perform well for Mexico and finish top scorer in Mexico. I'm enjoying the best phase of my career and I want to live the moment."