El Tri have featured in six of the nine editions of the Confed Cup
They are in Group A at Russia 2017, together with New Zealand, Portugal and the hosts
"Why shouldn't we envisage winning it?" said their captain, Guardado
Mexico skipper Andres Guardado is eagerly awaiting the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. And with good reason: El Tri have distinguished pedigree at the Tournament of Champions, having graced the competition six times and lifted the trophy as hosts in 1999.
"I was just a kid back then and I watched it at home. The country was at a standstill. I still remember the final against Brazil at the Azteca. The whole country went mad when we won it. That was one of our most significant triumphs at senior international level and we've viewed the Confederations Cup differently ever since," said Guardado, who was 12 at the time. "We haven't won it again, but we came very close in 2005, when we played really well against Argentina in the semi-finals. It was a very evenly matched game that went to penalties."
The versatile midfielder was part of the action himself in the 2013 edition in Brazil, playing all three group fixtures, but Mexico failed to make it through to the semi-finals. "We were in real trouble in World Cup qualifying at the time. We went there with a lot of doubts about how we were going about things, with serious question marks over the coach and a very negative atmosphere around us. What happened was pretty much what you'd expect when a team are short on confidence – we weren't able to advance."
"It was a far cry from what the situation is right now," Guardado went on. "That's why we're really upbeat ahead of this edition. The mood is completely different. We're well on track in World Cup qualifying and the squad are brimming with confidence, which I'm sure will help us give a good account of ourselves."
As alluded to by the veteran, Mexico currently sit top of the standings in the Hexagonal, the final stage on the CONCACAF Zone's road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, and could book their ticket to the global extravaganza during the upcoming double matchday in June. In other words, right before they travel to Russia for the Tournament of Champions.
"That's a huge boon to us. We could make sure of automatic qualification for the World Cup. You can imagine what that would mean to us: going to the Confederations Cup with even more confidence and peace of mind, and even entertaining thoughts of winning it."
Guardado has played in three World Cups and won the CONCACAF Gold Cup twice
- His professional debut came with Mexican outfit Atlas in 2005
- He made the move to Europe in 2007, signing for Deportivo La Coruna, before having stints at Valencia and Bayer Leverkusen
- Since joining PSV Eindhoven in 2014, he has won two Eredivisie titles and two Dutch Super Cups
On a personal note, Guardado has thrived at club level since making the switch to PSV and is enjoying something of an Indian summer in the Netherlands. "I feel like I've found my place," said the experienced 30-year-old, "I've achieved all the goals I'd always dreamed of, winning the championship and getting to play in the Champions League every year, and I'm treated with lots of affection. I feel really comfortable here. I'm very grateful."
"I came here in my prime and having reached a certain level of maturity. After the 2014 World Cup, I felt that wherever I was given the opportunity to play, I would demonstrate that I was up to the task and it would go well for me." So it has proven, despite a string of injuries that could have got the better of a less resilient figure, but which he has learnt to live with.
"Look, some people suffer from arthritis, some have stomach problems and others get migraines, whereas I'm prone to muscle strains. That's my curse in football. I've tried everything to keep injuries at bay and I've succeeded to an extent. I don't get injured as often as before, although it's still an issue I struggle with. I have that weakness and there's nothing I can do about it. It's infuriating when I get injured, but I try to take it on the chin so that I can recover and get back to 100 per cent quickly."
Indeed, fitness permitting, Guardado hopes to wear the armband and lead Mexico out on to the pitch next month in Russia. "We're really confident," he reiterated.
"We've been handed a tricky group, with the hosts and the European champions. No disrespect to them, but New Zealand are the smallest team of the lot. In any case, we fancy our chances. Mexico need to take that step up on the international stage, whether that be at a Confederations Cup, a Copa America or a World Cup. This is an ideal occasion to show that we can do just that. We'll see what we're made of at this Confederations Cup."