Equally likely to be seen surging down the left flank as breaking up an opposition attack in his own half, Andres Guardado is a vital cog in Mexico’s powerful engine at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. In El Tri’s decisive Group A clash with Croatia, a mere three minutes after Rafael Marquez had opened the scoring, up popped Guardado in the box to slam home his country’s second and provide a key cushion in the eventual 3-1 win that secured a spot in the Round of 16.
“That’s my most special goal, because it came at the World Cup!” the 27-year-old, grinning from ear to ear, told FIFA.com. “It’s a feeling I simply can’t describe: it’s a huge rush of adrenaline.
"I’m really happy and also particularly pleased about how the whole team played. All the players are fully committed and we all share the same objective,” added Guardado, whose strike against Luka Modric and Co was his first in seven World Cup games, spanning three tournaments.
Forced by their shaky displays in qualifying to negotiate an intercontinental play-off to reach Brazil 2014, the commitment and togetherness Guardado mentions has indeed been remarkable.
“We not only made it through the group phase, we did it deservedly and in style, in a way we’re pleased with and which gives us a lot of confidence,” said the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder. “Even so, despite what we’ve done, we’ve not achieved anything tangible just yet and our mission is by no means accomplished.”
Up next for Mexico on Sunday 29 June in Fortaleza are the Netherlands, also in fine fettle after racking up three wins to top Group B. “Yes, it’s going to be a tough match,” said Guardado. “We’ve already played three difficult games, particularly against Brazil, another one of the favourites. But we’re not going to lower our expectations – we're still hoping to make Mexican football history.”
Captained by Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, the Dutch have a team packed with youth, pace and skill, a combination that has proved lethal on the counter-attack. It will therefore be intriguing to see how they fare against a Mexican backline that has been breached just once in three group games.
“To be honest, the key to our defending has been the fact we’re all doing our bit – it’s not just down to the keeper and the defenders,” explained Guardado. “[Forwards] Oribe [Peralta] and Giovani [dos Santos] really help out and if the ball gets past them, us midfielders are ready to step in and, after that, there’s our back five. And finally you have Memo Ochoa, who’s playing really well, as the last line of defence.”
And how big a role does vastly experienced skipper Marquez, captaining El Tri for the fourth consecutive World Cup, play within the team’s defensive set-up? “Rafa’s leadership style has always been to speak one-on-one to whoever he thinks he can help, as well as leading by example,” said Guardado on the centre-back dubbed El Kaiser de Michoacán.
“When you see a guy who’s won everything he has, who’s 35 and is in this kind of form at his fourth World Cup, we don’t need him to say too much – just watching him on the pitch is enough. We’re very proud to have him in the team.”
What's more, having fallen at the Round of 16 in their last five World Cup campaigns, Mexico are fiercely determined to finally break that unwanted run. “We’re honestly not afraid of anything, we’re happy to take on anyone and fully expect to come away with the win,” said Guardado, summing up the buoyant mood in Los Aztecas’ camp, before taking his leave.
“We’re going to go toe-to-toe [with the Netherlands], we’re going to make their life difficult and prove to them that Mexico are no pushovers. We’ll be gunning for a place in the next round, that’s what we all really want.”