- *The 26-year-old forward plays for Portuguese champions Benfica *
- Mexico’s Russia 2017 debut will pitch him against domestic friends and foes
- Jimenez not unlike Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of physical prowess
*By Martin Langer with Mexico
Mexico will not be lacking in motivation when they take on Portugal in their opening match at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. But if there is one member of the *Tri squad for whom Sunday’s game is especially meaningful, then it is Raul Jimenez. After all, his links with Portugal extend far beyond the Group A meeting.
To start with, the Mexico No9 is an idol at Benfica, having scored a number of crucial goals in helping the club win back-to-back Portuguese league titles. There are few more authoritative voices, therefore, when it comes to analysing Mexico’s tournament opener against A Seleção das Quinas.
“It’s going to be special,” he said without a trace of doubt in his voice. “I’ll be up against three of my club-mates and a lot of other players I come up against every year. I can see it being a very competitive game and if we’re going to win it, we need to keep their great strikers in check.”
*A little bit of The Best *Picking out his favourite Portugal players, Jimenez said: “I like the way the left-back [Raphael] Guerreiro plays. My team-mate Pizzi is in there too. He’s a very classy midfielder. And then there’s the three up front: Cristiano, of course, and Nani and Quaresma too. They’re very skilful and they can change games just like that.”
It is no surprise that the Mexican forward should mention Cristiano, The Best FIFA Men’s Player of 2016. Tall, strong and fast, the two share many physical similarities and also have a rare gift for finding the back of the net when it matters most.
So, does Jimenez feel he has a touch of Ronaldo in him?
“I’ve never thought about it,” he said a little self-consciously. “But if I do, then I think I have, especially in the physical side of things, like height and strength. Obviously, he’s done amazing things with his clubs and the national team and I’d love to be able to match that.”
*Eyes on the prize *One thing that Jimenez has very clear in his mind is that to admire Cristiano does not mean to fear him. In fact, being on the same pitch as the Portuguese great will provide Jimenez with an extra source of motivation: “It goes without saying that he’s a great player. But we’re a great side too, and I’m sure we can stop him.”
In seeking to get off to a winning start, Mexico can draw on the quality of their players and on the spirit of the squad, an attribute their centre-forward is quick to point to: “We’re a tight-knit team and we really understand all the different phases we have to go through: when it’s time to train we train, and when it’s time to kick back and relax we do that too. It doesn’t matter what your name is or the league you play in: we’re all in this together and we’re all fighting for the same objective. That’s very important.”
But what can we expect of Jimenez at Russia 2017? Now 26 and at the peak of his powers, he had this to say in reply: “My first big tournament was the Confederations Cup (Brazil 2013), and I’ve got more experience now and the belief that I have a lot to offer on both a collective and individual level. I’m coming here with head held high and with the idea of achieving big things.”