Guardado: Competition for places has strengthened us
Andres Guardado is fifth on the list of Mexico's most-capped players
* **Is one of El Tri*'s captains and has already participated at three World Cups
** Says Russia 2018 is his "last opportunity to change Mexico's history"
"Wow, how time flies," was Andres Guardado's reaction when asked about the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, which could be his fourth appearance at the global showpiece.
"I'm proud to be going for a fourth World Cup," he said in his characteristically cheerful tone. "You dream of playing at one, so imagine playing at four - it's very exciting. It feels as if it's the first one, but this could be my last. But the most important thing is that it's my last opportunity to be part of a team that changes Mexico's history. That's what motivates me."
For Mexicans, changing history means reaching the almost mythical 'fifth match' – the quarter-finals. "That's what excites me," Guardado continued. "To go to my fourth World Cup, to wear the captain's armband and to be able to play that fifth game. Not just that, but to go even further… could there be a better way of playing my last World Cup than achieving that objective?"
That eagerly-awaited tournament is still a year away, however. Before then, El Tri first need to book their ticket to Russia 2018 and could take a huge step towards doing so during their qualifiers against Honduras and USA in June. Mexico are currently top of the CONCACAF Hexagonal, and under the guidance of head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, the team looks solid. In this exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Guardado analyses his side's current situation. Of the two upcoming games in June, the one against USA will be extra special… Andres Guardado: It's our 'Clasico' at international level. They're the team to beat in our zone. And after we defeated them on their home turf, they'll come here looking for revenge. But we're in really good shape right now and have the confidence playing at home brings. We know that if we can win these games, then we'll practically have qualified for the World Cup. That'll give us extra motivation to win. It's been a few years now since we've qualified in a straightforward manner. It's high time we did.
What has Osorio done to improve El Tri so much? He's made everyone in the team feel important. There used to be a very clear distinction between those in the starting line-up and those who were substitutes. Even though it's one of the things he's most been criticised for, I think it's the thing that's worked best within the group itself. He rotates the team a lot from game to game and that keeps us all on our toes and ready for when our opportunity comes along. That internal competition for places has strengthened us. We're on the right track to building the ideal team we want to have.
The PSV Eindhoven player is Mexico's fifth most-capped player of all time and is one of the team's captains, alongside veteran defender Rafael Marquez.
You have now played over 130 international games for Mexico. What are your thoughts on that? To be honest, I never think about it. I was told about it recently and I wasn't aware I'd played that many games. It's a statistic that motivates me, of course, and you can say: 'how nice that when I retire, I'll go down in history as one of my national team's most-capped players.' But I'm not obsessed with catching up with those who are ahead of me. As long as my legs and body allow me, I'll try to play as many matches as I can.
Your experience has led to you being named captain. How do you go about fulfilling that role? In a pretty laid-back manner. I try to face the challenge with as much maturity as possible and to be aware of everything we need both on and off the pitch, for the team and the players. Also, you obviously have to lead by example and that's the main thing I concern myself with. You always have to give a good example to the younger guys about what it means to be in the national team. To be honest, I think I've done well so far.
Who are your role models as captain? The person I look up to is Rafael Marquez. He's been captain all his life in the national team. He's my main role model, because in my view, he's the best Mexico's ever had and it's a big responsibility to share this role with him. One day, I'd like to have the kind of leadership he has but I'm not like him, I have a different personality. And you have to be captain in your own way, being who you are.
What kind of captain are you? I'm the kind of person who likes to joke, and to play about with the younger players. I'm very close to them and I try to talk to everyone so that my team-mates feel like they can ask me for advice, given the experience I have.
— Andrés Guardado (@AGuardado18) 26 de mayo de 2017
(There's no reason not to have fun at work! Making fun of the fake Spiderman)