Mexico entertain Costa Rica at the Estadio Azteca this Tuesday with designs on clinching an early place in the final six-team round in the CONCACAF qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Having already won their first three games in Group B, El Tri need just one more victory to get over the line, an outcome that will be greeted with joy by an expectant nation.
There are more than points at stake when Los Ticos come to town, however. Tuesday’s match also represents the coming-of age of a clutch of players who recently returned from the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 with gold medals around their necks.
Seven members of that side are in the squad for Costa Rica’s visit, including young hopefuls Javier Aquino and Marco Fabian and the vastly experienced Carlos Salcido, who appeared in London as an over-age player. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to them about the rigours of representing their country on two different fronts.
Fresh-faced but fearless
Aquino was a surprise inclusion in the Mexico side that beat the Costa Ricans 2-0 in San Jose last Friday, the diminutive right-winger repaying his coach Jose Manuel de la Torre’s faith with a fine display.
“I just tried to make the most of my opportunity and I’m happy with my performance, said the Cruz Azul player, before comparing his recent experience in the UK with performing in one of the most challenging arenas in Central America. “They’re very different situations. There was maybe more at stake at the Olympics, but the atmosphere was more intimidating in Costa Rica.
"That’s what I expected, though," he went on. "I guessed that the qualifying game would be a more passionate occasion and that’s how it turned out. Even so, we young players have been picking up a lot of experience on the way and it wasn’t hard for us to adapt.”
The key is that they’ve already come a long way despite their age. They know what it means to take part in tournament at the highest level.
Team-mate Marco Fabian, one of El Tri’s star performers in London, came on towards the end of the game in San Jose, making him equally qualified to compare and contrast the two settings.
“If anything it’s a bit harder to play in a qualifier with the national team because you know that you can’t afford to make a mistake,” said the Guadalajara prospect. “There’s pressure at either age level, but here you’re left in no doubt that you’re representing the whole country in a hostile environment.”
Fabian also acknowledged the role played by Mexico’s old guard in helping the newcomers to bed down: “There were a lot of us youngsters there, but we had [Carlos] Salcido, [Jesus] Corona and [Oribe] Peralta by our side, who went to London as the over-age players. That made it easier for us to come into the group, and I have to say it was a very positive experience for us.”
A bright future
The stalwart Salcido agreed with the two newcomers, and voiced praise for their performances: “I really liked how they played. They fronted up and showed character.”
Explaining why they had settled in so well, he added: “The key is that they’ve already come a long way despite their age. They know what it means to take part in tournament at the highest level and they can show that on the pitch. It gives us experienced players a lot of satisfaction to see that this new breed have got that ability, and it pushes us to produce our very best as well.”
“It’s all part of a process, and our aim is to make the most of every minute and every game,” said Aquino, who is anxious not to get ahead of himself. “But we can’t come here and start demanding things, no matter how good our results have been in the youth teams. We want to get noticed and win a place in the team, but more than anything we want to learn from our team-mates, who’ve been around here longer.”
All three are agreed that the future of Mexico’s bright young things will hinge on results, starting with Tuesday’s game at the Azteca, the next step on the road to Brazil 2014.
“We know it won’t be easy,” said a focused Fabian, who ended on a typically upbeat note. “We’ve been through plenty of difficult situations, though, and come out the other side. The talent is there and all we need to is work hard and show that by coming away from the Azteca with a win.”