Santiago: I dream of lifting the trophy every night

Having been included in the Mexico squad for the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup at the tender age of 13, played in the senior FIFA Women’s World Cup™ three years later and established herself as the CONCACAF nation’s undisputed No1 at Canada 2015, Cecilia Santiago has enjoyed a rapid rise that has involved considerable hard work and a confident attitude, as she recounted to

The gifted goalkeeper already has considerable World Cup experience under her belt – Canada 2015 is her sixth such adventure across various age categories, which is a record for a player her age.

During those different tournaments, she has often overcome near-impossible odds. “I always feel the biggest range of emotions when I’m faced with what seems like an insurmountable challenge,” she said. “I’ve had to fight to win my spot at each level. And so I take great pleasure in achieving something difficult.”

Despite her level of international experience and her team-mates’ general lack thereof, the composed custodian is not the type to throw around advice. “I’m always happy to share my knowledge, but our team spirit remains the most important thing. I only give pointers if someone asks me for them,” said Santiago, who has been without a club since leaving Boston Breakers in 2013.

“Everyone has different needs when it comes to performing at their very best. As far as I’m concerned, I’m looking for an environment where I can adopt a routine and get my bearings, so that I can try to be as relaxed as possible off the pitch,” she said.

Marked improvement On the pitch, however, it is a different story. In front of huge crowds, when the stakes are high and her family is watching on television, she manages to block everything out.

“I’m so wrapped up in the moment that I don’t think of anything else apart from my own game,” she explained. “I feel good when I adopt that state of mind. You have to get pleasure out of giving 100 per cent, of demonstrating that your team has heart.”

Indeed, having drawn 1-1 with Colombia and lost 2-1 to England, El Tri will have to give their all in their final group match with France to keep their Women’s World Cup dreams alive. No-one in the squad has given up hope, least of all their self-assured ’keeper, who is convinced that the team has a bright future.

“Mexican football has made progress, but women’s football in general has also improved tremendously in recent times. Players are coached better, they have a greater handle on the tactical side of things and they play in a more intelligent way,” said Santiago, who is well-placed to analyse changes taking place in the game.

“I’ve already noticed big changes between the two Women’s World Cups that I’ve been involved in,” added the shot-stopper, who dreams of plying her trade in a major league one day and of seeing Mexico catch up in that particular department. “It’s coming together slowly but surely. The way that grassroots football is organised is improving, and that’s a good start.”

A Mexican World Cup victory would certainly boost the sport’s standing back home and potentially precipitate the launch of a professional league. “I believe Mexico can win it; it’s just a question of time. I just hope I don’t have to wait ten years to experience it,” she remarked.

While such statements could be mistaken for over-confidence, in Santiago’s case it is merely a healthy mix of ambition and enthusiasm. “I’m just being realistic, because we have what it takes to do it in the near future. I see myself lifting the Women’s World Cup every night in my dreams,” she concluded with a twinkle in her eye.