Carlos Vela may be just 21, but the Arsenal forward has certainly packed plenty of experience into his relatively short professional career. The Mexican international has fired his country to glory at the 2005 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup as well as tasting club football in his homeland, Spain and England.

And as the former Guadalajara, Salamanca and Osasuna starlet told in an exclusive interview, he could barely be more excited about his biggest challenge yet: representing El Tri at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.

“We’re ready,” said Vela, the confidence clear in his voice. “We’ve prepared really well. It’s not every day you get to play against opponents like England, the Netherlands and Italy. We played well against the first two but weren’t able to win, which is why it meant so much to beat the reigning world champions. It was a real confidence-booster ahead of the World Cup.”

What is more, Mexico could not have a bigger platform on which to begin their FIFA World Cup campaign, when they take on hosts South Africa in 11 June’s Opening Match in Johannesburg. “It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not going to be easy because it’s the first match, we’re up against the host nation and there’s all that pressure. I think the key will be to shake off our nerves as quickly as possible and play like we have been doing these last few weeks.”

“It’s incredible, our fans are always with us whether we win or lose, and that really motivates us,” said the Gunners’ front-man on the estimated 20,000 Mexican fans expected to be in the Soccer City Stadium on Friday. “These people deserve to see their team do something special in the tournament and fight to reach the latter stages.”

Vela also believes that El Tricolor’s 23-man finals squad, on current form, is more than capable of causing a stir on South African soil. “Our philosophy is to always make good use of the ball. With that in mind, I think that (coach) Javier Aguirre has called up the right kind of players: ones who are quick and comfortable on the ball. It’s easier to work with a team like that and we’re improving step by step. We’ve already beaten the world champions, why shouldn’t we dream of winning the Trophy ourselves?”

It’s not every day you get to play against opponents like England, the Netherlands and Italy.

Carlos Vela, Mexico forward.

Hosts Bafana Bafana could hardly have drawn tougher opening opponents in Group A. The Mexicans are well used to performing at altitude and the sound of the vuvuzelas is very similar to the trumpets which punctuate matches at their Estadio Azteca home.

“We’ve got no excuses,” said Vela. “We’re used to playing at altitude and even though we’ll have (most of) the fans against us, it’s not the first time we’ve played away from home. We’ll just have to focus on what’s happening on the pitch, that’ll be the best way to win the match.”

As a striker known for his predatory instincts, was scoring Mexico’s opener in the 2-1 victory over Italy vital after missing two one-on-ones in the 3-1 defeat against England? “Not really, that’s just football. Sometimes you score, sometimes you don’t, some you win, some you lose. You’re always on a knife edge, but it’s best to stay positive and keep plugging away. You mustn’t let your head drop if you miss a chance, you have to stay calm, position yourself near goal and you’ll score sooner or later.”

Part of Mexico’s ‘Golden Generation’ which won the U-17 world title at Peru 2005, three other members of that squad have also made the leap to senior international level in time for South Africa 2010. Does Vela believe that trophy-winning experience will prove useful? “It’s very important because we showed that we (Mexico) can get it right. We’ve known each other for years and have won titles together: now’s the time to do it at the very highest level. We’re full of confidence.”

“We’re in a great place, which gives us the chance to chill out and get away from the city. But it is boring sometimes, particularly as we’re not allowed to have visitors,” said Vela as the interview drew to a close, when asked how to keep boredom at bay during the squad’s lengthy spell away from home.

“We use our mobile phones, Playstations, go on the internet or all get together in our rooms: anything to keep us entertained. To be honest we can’t wait. At first time passed really fast and now it’s going so slow – we want the World Cup to start now!”