If the Mexican women's football team was the sensation of the recent CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers, then their prolific goalscorer, Maribel Domínguez, was definitely its star. Known for her love of the game and propensity for hard work, the gifted Domínguez put her team on the road to glory in the pre-Olympic tournament in Costa Rica. Along with the USA, Mexico secured their berth for this summer's Games in Athens, eliminating one of the tournament's hottest favourites, Canada, along the way.


Your qualification for Athens sparked huge celebrations in Mexico, but now that the initial euphoria has worn off, has it really sunk in that you will be representing your country in its first ever appearance at a Women's Olympic Football Tournament?
Yes it has. We are now calm and focused once again. After we secured qualification, it felt like a dream come true. To think that it was all down to us, was such a great feeling.
Beating the Canadians was the ultimate. Revenge never tasted so good, I can tell you. Moments like those are what keep you going. But now the hard work begins. There are certain things that we need to work on - both individually and as a team - that aren't quite right. We have to really push ourselves so that we build on what we achieved in the qualifiers.


What areas in particular need working on?
We've got to learn to keep the ball, string more passes together and not squander possession so easily. We've also got to give that bit more out there on the pitch, and keep our composure and shape, especially when we go behind. Often our fixation with scoring or winning a game becomes our undoing. Nerves get the better of us and we stop doing the basics that you have to do to win. I'd say that's the biggest thing we have to work on.

And what are the team's strengths would you say?
Well, we're a really tight-knit group and we all work towards the same goal. We set ourselves targets, and then we set about achieving them. Also the team environment is good and we enjoy ourselves. In many respects we are like a family. When we get together it feels like home from home. That's so important. The fact that we are preparing for a major tournament has also given us an added impetus. We want Mexico to be one of the best teams at the Games.
 
What target have you set yourselves for Athens?
We would like to say we have great expectations, but in truth we're going to take it one step at a time. You can't start thinking about your second game until you have played your first. What I can say, is that we'll be approaching each game as if it were a final. I firmly believe that we can do very well, we're preparing very professionally and we aim to be among the top five in Athens. Technically speaking we are definitely getting there, so I think top five is not unrealistic.

You scored nine goals in the qualifiers. This earned you the top scorer award and a place in the Ideal Olympic Team. How would you rate your own performance?
Clearly, winning the top scorer award was very special. It was something I really worked for. Although I took the chances that came my way, it wouldn't have been possible without my coach and team-mates. I'm proud of what I've achieved but also excited because I know I'm capable of so much more. Now I've got to keep working to make that happen.
 
And how would you rate the current team?
The Mexican team has come a long way. The gap between the top teams and us has closed dramatically - the Olympic qualifiers showed that. We played very well against the two best teams in the world: Canada and the USA. That was down to the effort put in by the players and the coach, in other words, sheer hard work. Also the support we got from the people instilled a lot of confidence, and gave us the motivation to keep going.

Has there been more interest in women's football in your country since the team's success?
Yes, the people have got behind us more and really believe in us now. People recognise you on the street and acknowledge what we have achieved. That's precisely what we want to happen. We want the support for the team to grow, so that the young girls who follow in our footsteps have what it takes to make Mexico the best team in the world.

What is needed for women's football to continue to take root in Mexico?
There has to be increased support for the game in Mexico. We also need a women's league where young girls can train and hone their skills from an early age. In fairness, we've come a long way. Today we have teams from 12 years and up, whereas before it was just the senior team. Now the players are starting to come through. We have 19-year-olds who are lightning fast with excellent technique. That kind of competition forces you to work even harder and raise your game. If not, you know there are half a dozen kids queuing up behind you to take your place.

You started playing football at the age of eight with your brother Rolando, and now you are off to the Olympic Games to represent your country. How difficult has it been for you as a woman?
Very difficult. When I started off, football was still very much a man's game. There was a lot of discrimination and many people thought I shouldn't play simply because I was a woman. There was always someone saying that football was for boys and that young girls should be in the kitchen. I refused to accept that and always answered back. Over time the boys saw that I could hold my own and gradually I became accepted. Now with the success of the women's team, a lot of those same people are having to eat their words. Which is fine, it's high time this country quit being so 'macho'.

You are very active in football clinics for girls. What are their main concerns and what advice do you give them?
It's a great feeling to hear hundreds of youngsters call your name in unison. They want to know all about you and how it all began. These girls are the Mexico of the future. When they tell me that they want to be like me, I always tell them: "No, you're going to have to be better than me. You'll have the support along the way to make it possible." I also tell them to take it step by step, and if they like it, to stick with it no matter what anyone says. The last thing I remind them is not to abandon their studies. As beautiful as the sport is, you must have a life after football. 

As a footballer, what other dreams have you yet to fulfil?
Obviously, I still have to complete my Olympic dream. Later, I'd like to move abroad to play professional football. Athens will be the perfect place to showcase my talents. I'm going to have to train hard and play well if I'm going to get noticed. Opportunities like this come once in a lifetime and you have to seize them when they do. When I finally hang up my boots, I'd like to continue in the game maybe as a coach or a trainer. That way I can do my bit to ensure women's football flourishes in Mexico