Mexico were within touching distance of a place in the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals for the first time in their history in 2006. However, a tricky tie with a more experienced Argentina side in the Round of 16 marked the end of their impressive run, an extra-time goal sending El Tri back home.
Four years down the line, experience is something that is no longer lacking for Mexico. With a significant number of their squad now plying their trade in Europe, Javier Aguirre’s seasoned team are in confident mood ahead of the game against Uruguay that will decide which path they take next in the tournament. As the day of reckoning draws ever nearer, FIFA spoke to Francisco Rodriguez, one of the veterans of the 2006 squad who currently plays his football with PSV in the Netherlands.
FIFA: Francisco, could you tell us how Mexican players have changed in recent years?
Francisco Rodriguez: The mindset has changed a lot, especially as far as the younger players are concerned. Now I see with my own eyes that Mexican players really want to win when they play for the national team. Mexican footballers have lost that fear that they used to have, the fear of winning and of trying new experiences abroad.
In Mexico’s most recent matches, nine of the starting XI played in Europe last season. Does this help the national team, do you think?
It definitely does - a lot, in fact. It’s helped Mexican football to grow considerably. Bit by bit, we’re raising the level, not just in football but in the country as a whole as well.
Mexico are one of the few international teams who have three different captains, namely Rafael Marquez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Gerardo Torrado. What is the reasoning behind this?
The three of them are crucial players for Mexico. I believe that, by appointing them as captains, Javier Aguirre has given each one of them a role that befits their standing within the squad. But I should point out that our team represents one collective captain – we communicate well with each other on the pitch and we demand a lot of one another. For me, our leadership shows in the quality of our play.
Tell us about the mood in the dressing room after you beat France, a first for Mexico.
We obviously talked a lot prior to the World Cup, and what we all agreed on is that we wanted to make history, little by little. And the victory over France is the first page in this new chapter in the history of the Mexican game. We’re happy, but we also recognise that we’ve not yet qualified for the next round, that we still have a match to play. The team is extremely focused and is looking forward to the Uruguay encounter in good spirits.
There are no easy matches at a FIFA World Cup. What do you expect from Uruguay?
They’re a team that make it difficult for you to play your own game, as they fight hard in every area of the pitch, contesting every loose ball. They’ve got some key players like [Diego] Forlan and [Luis] Suarez. You can’t give them any space because they’ll make you pay in a flash. We’ll therefore need to be at our very best to win.
Argentina knocked you out in the Round of 16 four years ago. Have you thought about ensuring that you avoid them this time around?
We no longer have any kind of inferiority complex or fears of that sort. I think I can speak on behalf of my team-mates when I say that our first priority is to get three points against Uruguay. Then, irrespective of the team we come up against, it’s a new phase of the competition, and it’ll be a bit like starting from scratch. It’s a difficult stage of the tournament and we’ll just have to face up to whatever opponent we’re paired with, while continuing to play as we’ve been doing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Argentina, Brazil or Germany - we’ll aim to play at the same high level.
You just need one point to progress. Will this affect your style of play?
No, not at all. We have our own style, which we’re not going to change under any circumstances, even now. When we step out on to the pitch, we always aim to win – playing for a draw never crosses our minds. Although a point apiece would qualify both teams, we want to win the group.
You just underlined the importance of playing club football in European leagues. What have you made of your time at PSV so far?
The style of football is very different, but it’s been a tremendous experience for me on a personal level. I’ve learned a lot and have come to appreciate that when a Mexican player leaves to play abroad, it’s beneficial for football back home.
How do you see your club future panning out after the FIFA World Cup?
I’ve always wanted to play in England or Spain – that’s my dream. But I obviously have to concentrate on doing well at my current club first. It was a good year for me at PSV, but I still want more, to keep learning, to not set myself any limits. I have a year left, and I’d like to win the Dutch title with my team. After that, I’ll have to see.