Pavel Pardo is one of the mainstays of Mexican football. A veteran of 142 internationals with El Tricolor and two FIFA World Cups™, he is one of the few Mexican players still in action who knows how it feels to beat USA in their own backyard; a triumph he will be hoping to repeat when the two meet again in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday.
Just weeks after returning from a successful stay with Stuttgart in Germany, the Mexico captain spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about the forthcoming derby, and what the future holds for him and El Tri.
FIFA.com: Pavel, there are just a few days until the region's final qualifying group for South Africa 2010 begins. How do you feel about Mexico's chances?
Pavel Pardo: Very good, I have to say. In training we are working hard on tactical, offensive and defensive aspects and things are looking better and better all the time. It's been a while since we've been able to train for a whole week with Sven-Goran Eriksson, although it wasn't that easy before because we had a lot of players in Europe and we couldn't work the way we are at the moment.
Having time to prepare is important for you?
I think so. I also feel we need to have the core of the team here in Mexico. When the nucleus was in Europe it was a lot harder to do all this integration work.
Your first game in the final six-team group takes you to the USA. Will that be your most difficult match?
Every game is difficult and it's going to be a very tough group. It's a key match, for sure, but it's not a final and there are other vital games ahead. We've got nine other matches and every one of them is crucial to our hopes. If things don't work out for us in one match, then there's no need to worry, as long as we pick up as many points as possible in the other fixtures.
Will the cold weather in Columbus make life harder for Mexico?
I don't think so. We've already faced them there and the players who are coming back from Europe are used to it. The conditions will be the same for both of us and I honestly don't think it's going to have any impact on the game.
Mexico have had some poor results lately. Would you say you are struggling?
There's always criticism and pressure, and those are things we've had to put up with in every qualification campaign I've been involved in and with every coach I've played under. As players we need to be very sure about what we are doing. As I said before, we can't just think about USA. We need to focus on all the qualifiers ahead of us.
The expectations are still the same, then?
We have no option but to qualify for the World Cup. For me it's even more important this time as it will be my last one. I'm sure the project will be a success and with the players we've got I think we can go beyond the second round. No matter what your objective is, there will always be obstacles and defeats. What you have to do is pick yourself up and reach your objective, and although the team's going through a tough patch we can put all that behind us with some good results.
Having played in Europe do you still feel it's an essential step for other Mexican footballers to take?
Yes, I still feel that way and that's why I also think it's good for the national team to have people in Europe, including those of us who've been and come back. The level of competition and the mentality are different there. Once you get used to it, you start to feel the difference and I'm convinced that having so many players there has brought about a change in the national team.
You played in the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League. How does the Mexican championship compare?
It's different. Our league isn't easy because sometimes you have to play at midday at 2,400 metres above sea level, and the following week you're at sea level playing in 40-degree heat. Mexican football is very competitive and although you might see better matches in Europe, you have to remember that they play in the afternoon or evening there and that's when players perform at their best. People in Mexico sometimes ask why the pace of the game is so slow but it's got a lot to do with the conditions. I still think it's a very entertaining league.
You are 32 now. How long do you intend to keep playing at the highest level?
Three more years, maybe four. It all depends on how I feel physically and mentally at the end of each season. If I'm in good shape, I'll carry on. You can be sure of that.