Despite facing the daunting task of tackling host nation South Africa in the Opening Match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, Mexico’s merry band of exciting youngsters and established performers are certainly up for the challenge.
With 11 of his squad members under the age of 25, coach Javier ‘El Vasco’ Aguirre has wisely put his faith in a playing style based on speed, movement and explosiveness: a combination sure to test Group A rivals Bafana Bafana to the limit on Friday 11 June.
Golden boys on their marks
Carlos Vela and Pablo Barrera are prime examples of a production line of talented youngsters that has been running smoothly for Mexico for some time now. Its efficacy was underlined by victory at the Peru 2005 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, with four members of that squad having made the jump to senior international in time for South Africa 2010.
“It was important because we showed that Mexico can do things right and that we are strong enough to reach the latter stages,” Arsenal striker Vela, winner of the adidas Golden Shoe in Peru, told FIFA in an exclusive interview. “Of course playing at a (senior) World Cup is not the same thing, but that experience helps because it means you’re no longer afraid of anyone.”
UNAM Pumas star Barrera was not part of the class of 2005, dubbed the ‘Golden Generation’, but he does boast FIFA competition experience from El Tri’s run to the quarter-finals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. “My team-mates have shared their experiences (at Peru 2005) with me and told me what it was it was like to win that trophy. That makes me want to achieve something similar, to be part of something so big”
“We’ve been part of this project together for a long time and we’ve acquired a winning mentality. We know our own strengths and that we can go toe-to-toe with any team in the world and try to beat them.”
An ideal blend
Not that Aguirre’s young tyros can do everything themselves, with a number of battled-hardened veterans also having a weighty role to play. “Of course we need the experience of players like Oscar Perez, Guillermo Franco, Rafa Marquez and Cuauhtemoc Blanco,” said Vela. “It’s important to learn from what they’ve been through. They know the World Cup, the pressure involved, and they help us to overcome our nerves.”
That said, with squad members at the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven and Galatasaray, the Mexican squad should be well used to the big occasion. “Of course it helps, as we’ve already played against players who’ll be at the World Cup,” continued Vela, who has tasted Mexican, Spanish and English league football in his relatively short career thus far. “The standard in the Mexican league is good, but you can’t pick up the same kind of international experience as in the Champions League for example.”
Barrera agrees and, as one of those youngsters still plying his club trade domestically, feels that South Africa 2010 could give him the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his Europe-based colleagues. “My dream is to have a great World Cup and then go and play for a European club. I’d love it to be Manchester United, but I’m aware that I’ve got a lot of work to do before I can achieve that.”
Not that Barrera’s Old Trafford ambition is unrealistic, with Mexico team-mate Javier Hernandez only recently having signed for the Red Devils from Mexican side Guadalajara. Quick, elusive, driven and able to shoot with either foot, Barrera too is more than capable of making the leap to the Old Continent. And he and his fellow El Tri youngsters could barely wish for a bigger stage on which to prove just that, starting with 11 June’s encounter at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium.