When he took over as Mexico coach in the middle of Mexico’s CONCACAF qualifying campaign, Javier Aguirre knew that the road to South Africa would be paved with difficulties and challenges. The priority was to turn around El Tri’s stuttering qualifying campaign, but another issue, more subtle but no less pressing, was at the forefront of the coach’s thoughts: how to bring together two generations of Mexican football in the same team.
To the delight of fans all over Mexico, Aguirre’s efforts brought instant results and Los Aztecas’ performance so far in South Africa have shown that their blend of raw youth and seasoned campaigners can, on its day, be irresistible.
In fact, the Mexicans’ unity and team spirit has been readily evident in both of their games so far. A hard-fought draw with hosts South Africa in the tournament’s Opening Match was followed by a 2-0 victory over 1998 world champions France, leaving Aguirre’s men in a strong position in Group A. And as strikers Guillermo Franco and Javier Hernandez, two men competing for the same position in the side, will readily admit, egos have given way to a sense of collective endeavour and a common goal.
“The squad is very united and we’re all thinking in the same way. We want to do great things with the national team,” explained Franco. “Of course I would have loved to have scored but the important thing is for the team to get to where we want to go. And if I don’t score but we keep on winning, I will be very happy.”
His fellow striker Hernandez may be 11 years younger, but still shares the same burning ambition to see his country make a real impression in South Africa. In fact, Franco is generous enough to predict a big future for Mexico’s latest striking sensation. “He (Hernandez) is the future of the national team, but he is good enough to make an impression now and he has already scored for us in the tournament. It’s no coincidence that one of the big European clubs has signed him and we’re all delighted for him,” explained Franco.
With typical modesty, however, Chicharito Hernandez refuses to get carried away with his goal against France, a strike that sealed Mexico’s superiority in the game and went a long way to sealing a well-deserved victory. “It was a good goal but the most important thing was to get the win. We’re in a good position now to qualify and that’s exactly what we all want to do,” said the youngster.
For midfielder Gerardo Torrado unity is everything and it certainly goes a long way to explaining why the Mexicans find themselves on the verge of the knockout stages. Torrado captained the side in their first game against South Africa before giving way to current skipper Rafa Marquez and, as he explained to FIFA.com, he believes his team’s powers of concentration and strong work ethic are the secrets of their success so far. “We’ve all put a lot of effort in on the pitch and we need to carry on like this, focused and ready. (Against France) we played well all over the pitch, at the back, in midfield and up front. The most important thing in that game was for us to stick together and work hard, and against Uruguay we have to do exactly that.”
For his part, goalkeeper Oscar Perez is well aware of the importance of team spirit and appreciates coach Aguirre’s skill in bringing together youth and experience, attributing a change in mentality within the Mexico squad to the positive qualities brought by both the youngsters and the old stalwarts. “I don’t want to compare this team with teams from the past, but the truth is that we have some talented youngsters mixed with experienced guys, and they are all quality players. We’re a strong squad, and from that, we make a strong team. And we’ve shown in our last few games that we can beat top-quality opposition, first Italy and now France.”
El Tri’s next objective will be their final group game against a strong Uruguay team. A draw will suffice but Aguirre and his team want more. And with their star apparently in the ascendancy, they will hope to show once again that their own mix of talent and hard work can be a winning combination.