- Mexico will arrive at Brazil 2019 having won the last four CONCACAF U-17 titles
- Israel Luna scored the winning goal in the recent continental decider against USA
- The FIFA U-17 World Cup will run from 26 October to 17 November
Although barely 17 years of age, Israel Luna has already learned one of life’s most valuable lessons: those who persevere will, sooner or later, achieve their goals. While he has loved the game of football since he was a young boy, he had to negotiate a number of hurdles before embarking on a footballing career.
“I started playing football at school,” the precocious Mexican told FIFA.com. “I had to do a sport and my parents decided to sign me up for football. From the age of ten onwards, I tried out for Pachuca seven or eight times. At the trials they told me I wasn’t ready because I was overweight. By the time I was 15, I was the right weight for my age, and after two weeks, I finally got accepted.”
Despite these difficulties, Luna never considered giving up on his dream, and his efforts were eventually rewarded. At Pachuca, he began to establish himself: he earned a place in the club’s youth academy and was subsequently called up by Mexico U-17 coach Mario Arteaga for the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, which also served as the qualifying event for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019.
“I’ve always wanted to step outside my comfort zone,” he said. “I set myself apart by improving on a daily basis. If I’m lacking in a certain area, I work on it straight away; I don’t leave it for another day. And that’s what’s helped me get ahead.”
Having secured three consecutive continental crowns, the objective for El Tri was straightforward: win for a fourth time in a row. They cruised through to the final with a 100 per cent record, but opponents USA proved a tougher nut to crack, and the teams could not be separated after 90 minutes.
The match went to extra time, and just as the fans present in Bradenton were starting to foresee a penalty shoot-out, in the 108th minute Luna once again demonstrated his determination and single-mindedness, scoring the goal that clinched the trophy for Mexico.
“At that moment I thought about all the effort I’d put in to get to that point,” he continued. “I cried tears of joy. Knowing that we can create moments like that for Mexican fans is something that really touches us deeply.”
Key facts: Israel Luna
- Born on 23 March 2002 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico
- 1.75m tall, weighs 72 kg
- Scored five goals in the qualifiers
- A born goalscorer, he describes himself as “a player who likes to cleverly occupy free space”
With the successful qualifying campaign already consigned to the past, the young striker’s mind is now focused on the next objective, the FIFA U-17 World Cup, in which Mexico boasts a laudable record of two victories and one second-place finish. Those previous triumphs, far from frightening him or adding pressure to his shoulders, fill him with enthusiasm.
“There’s no pressure; on the contrary, it’s a source of motivation for us,” he said. “We have to continue to represent Mexico in the best possible way and go as far as we can, as is expected in our country.”
The Mexicans have been placed in Group F, alongside Solomon Islands, Italy and Paraguay. Rather than think about the opponents, Luna would prefer to concentrate on his own team and work on some final improvements ahead of 28 October, when a new adventure will kick off against Los Guaraníes in Brazil.
“We like the teams we’re in with, because they’re strong. We’ll be completely ready to face them all; we don’t shrink from any challenge. There are a few minor details to sort out, but I think the team will be very well prepared.”
Any personal glory aside, Luna would love to return from Brazil with a goal medal so that he can dedicate it to his family for all the support they have given him. “My mother has been so important through all of this,” he said. “She’s the one who’s helped me to excel. She’s been my psychologist, my nurse, everything, really.
"I don’t have an idol as such, but knowing that I have a family behind me inspires me; it makes me want to make progress and make them proud of me.”