These days, the mere mention of the Olympic Football Tournament is enough to bring a smile to the faces of Mexican football fans. The tournament has been a source of huge national pride since the 2012 Games in London, where El Tri took home gold following a memorable victory over Brazil in the final. That triumph, now recalled in the country with a mixture of nostalgia and fondness, has gone down as one of Mexican football’s finest hours.
Four years on, a new generation of young Mexicans are setting off to Brazil with the aim of repeating the trick. Bolstered by the presence of three veterans with FIFA World Cup™ experience, the squad has one shared goal: to recreate the magic of that unforgettable afternoon at Wembley Stadium in 2012.
“Our aim is to bring home another gold medal.” That was the message coming from Alfredo Talavera, one of squad’s older heads, who spoke to FIFA.com just hours before the start of the Rio 2016 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament.
The goalkeeper, who will turn 34 in September, is more determined than most to enjoy his Olympic experience to the full. The tournament comes as Talavera’s own career reaches new heights, and he knows as well as anyone just what it takes to be given such an opportunity. He arrived on the international scene relatively late but, since receiving his first call-up for El Tri in 2011, he has often had to settle for a substitute’s role. Rio 2016 will be his first tournament as Mexico’s undisputed first choice goalkeeper.
“I can’t wait,” beamed Talavera, who hails from the small town of La Barca in the west of Mexico. “The Olympic Games are not something you get to experience every day. I travelled to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but I didn’t get the chance to play. Now that I’m here, I just want to make the very most of this opportunity. I plan to enjoy myself – responsibly of course, but I want to have fun.”
Talavera is aware that his role will also involve passing on the fruits of his experience to the youngest members of an extremely talented squad, and that his contribution off the pitch will therefore be just as important as his on-field performances. The player himself is perfectly happy to assume these responsibilities: “You talk about your experiences, try to underline the importance of enjoying the moment. Sometimes we forget that it’s only a game,” he admitted. “We have to enjoy it. Just like when we were kids, only with more maturity. If we manage to do that, the results will take care of themselves.”
High hopes The start of the tournament is when players let their imaginations run wild, as they run the tournament through in their heads and dream of glory. These are dreams in which they raise the trophy aloft or, in this case, climb to the top step of the podium with tears of pride in their eyes, a medal hanging from their necks and the national anthem playing in their ears. Dreams such as these are particularly vivid for El Tri, as memories are still fresh of that afternoon in London four years ago.
Does this put added pressure on the 2016 squad? “We’re not looking at it like that. We just have to give it our all, be disciplined, and we know that the results will come. As defending champions, we know what it takes. We don’t see it as a burden. We’re dreaming of making that journey again,” he explained.
Having won the gold medal at London 2012, the Mexicans now arrive in Rio as one of the favourites. El Tri’s fans certainly have high expectations for their team at this year’s tournament, something the goalkeeper, who plays his club football for Toluca, is well aware of. And Talavera is certainly not about to shy away from the challenge. “Our aim is to win a medal, and hopefully it will be gold,” he reiterated. “We’ve prepared really well, we’ve worked hard and now, with the tournament approaching, it’s just down to the little details. We’re very excited.”
Mexico will play their first match on Thursday 4 August against Germany, in Salvador de Bahia. Talavera, his country’s third choice goalkeeper at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, is not daunted by the identity of the opposition. “It’s a very strong team with well-renowned, experienced players. To win, we will have to be tactically very disciplined, and aggressive if the match goes that way. We like to keep the ball so, if they let us play our game, then great. But we’ll be able to adapt if that’s not the case.”
With matches against Fiji (7 August) and Czech Republic (10 August in Brasilia) to follow, the keeper was sounding a positive note as we wound up our interview: “We’ve got a lot of quality, and a good blend of youth and experience. We have guys at the back like Cesar Montes and Carlos Salcedo, or Hirving Lozano, who had a really good Copa America. Then there are others like Oribe Peralta, who was part of the team that won the gold medal in London. We’re heading out there with the intention of doing things right, and we can’t wait for the tournament to get underway.”