“I was just in the right place at the right time,” he said humbly, lowering his gaze to the floor. But it was not the first time that Oribe Peralta has rescued Mexico, and El Tri's fans will hope that it will not prove to be the last.
The striker sealed victory for Mexico in his FIFA World Cup™ debut against Cameroon at Brazil 2014, but he had already been his country’s hero twice previously: first in the final of the Olympic Games in 2012 against Brazil, when his two goals won Mexico the gold medal, and then by scoring five times over the two legs of a play-off against New Zealand to qualify for this tournament.
“I’m glad to have played my part in those victories, but it’s a team effort," he told FIFA.com. "It falls to me to put the ball in, because I’m the closest player to the goal, but it comes as a result of everybody’s hard work.
For the clash with Cameroon, the Club America forward reserved special praise for his team-mate Giovani dos Santos who, despite recent criticism from the public, was arguably Mexico’s key player on the day. “It’s his goal too. He hit the shot, the goalkeeper saved it and the ball fell to me,” explained Peralta, known to his countrymen by the nickname ‘El Hermoso’. "Gio is a player who we all turn to. He helps you a lot out on the pitch, he works very hard and he always looks for a way to get the win for his team."
If there were doubts hanging over Gio’s form on the eve of the match, the same can be said of Oribe’s very involvement. Many voices were calling for Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández to be named in the starting eleven. “We don’t let these things affect us. There’s healthy competition during our training sessions, everyone is giving their all to be named in the team. And after that, it’s up to the coach to decide who are the best men for the job and who’s going to play,” he added.
"What’s clear is that nobody can relax. Nobody can be sure of starting every match, we all have to show that we deserve it out on the field of play and in training,” he continued, firmly. And could the two of them play together? “Yes, of course! I get on very well with him. And if that’s what Herrera wants, that’s how it will be.”
Miguel Herrera has been one of the key reasons behind El Tri’s recent resurgence. And he has not only brought in changes to the group’s football, but also to their mindset. “He has very much a winning mentality and he transmits this to all of us. We believe in ourselves, we give our all and we do what he asks of us: keep the ball," said Peralta.
“After a difficult qualification, this team is clearly looking much better now. We have settled into a rhythm. And also, we have a lot of supporters here, following us and believing in us. This drives us on to give even more,” he added, still impressed by the amount of compatriots who have made the journey to Brazil.
“Thanks to the first win, we are very calm about the Brazil match, about taking another step forwards to achieving our goal. But the Brazil team is tough, very tough,” he warned, more seriously all of a sudden, as his conversation with FIFA.com came to an end. “We’re going to make life difficult for them, because this game will be crucial. Still, it’s a team that, if we play well, we can beat.”
Beware Brazil, because if there is anyone who knows how to beat the hosts, it is Peralta. After all, this is the man who snatched the Olympic gold medals from around their necks. Always a player for the big occasion, who is to say that Peralta will not be the hero again in Fortaleza? His fans certainly believe in him, and he seems to always repay their faith.
(Thanks everyone for your support! Let’s give it everything we’ve got!)