Sunday 7 August 2016 is a day that will live long in Erick Gutierrez’s memory and one he may well recount to his children and grandchildren in years to come. The midfielder played in Mexico’s second group game of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament against footballing minnows Fiji at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador – but the match proved to be anything but straightforward.
With the threat of an upset hanging in the air as the Pacific islanders took a surprise 1-0 half-time lead against El Tri, Gutierrez’s moment arrived. The 21-year-old needed just ten minutes to turn the game around with a hat-trick before crowning his performance with Mexico’s final goal in a 5-1 victory.
After the final whistle, the joy of scoring four times was evident on the face of a man who has already helped Pachuca to Mexican championship glory this season. With a broad grin, he answered FIFA.com’s questions in the stadium’s labyrinthine corridors and explained what these strikes meant to him.
“It’s very special,” said Gutierrez. “I’ve never scored a goal for the national side. It’s the first time I’ve ever found the target in a Mexico shirt, whether at youth level or for the first team, which is why this result means so much to me.”
From the boxing ring to the football pitch
The free-scoring midfielder offered an explanation as to why El Tri took so long to find their rhythm. “They simply took us by surprise,” he admitted. “We talked it over at length during half-time, and that helped us a lot. We showed a different side of ourselves after the break and returned to the pitch as a completely transformed team.”
While Mexico coach Raul Gutierrez certainly seems to have found the right words in the dressing room at the break, the four-time goalscorer refused to be drawn on what exactly they were. “Let me put it this way: he made reference to our places within the team,” said the 21-year-old, who is not related to the coach who shares his name. “Whatever he said, it worked and we managed to turn the match around.”
The man from Los Mochis’ subsequent impressive sharpshooting display proved that his boss’s words certainly got the best out of him. When watching the pace and dexterity with which Gutierrez moves during a game, it is not difficult to imagine that his career began not on a football pitch but in a boxing ring.
“I only trained as a boxer for two or three months,” he explained with a laugh, “but the lifestyle wasn’t great and my family wouldn’t let me carry on with it, so I started playing football. I wasn’t very good, but I improved a lot and I’m very happy to be here today.”
His team-mates will undoubtedly agree.