What is your first World Cup memory? The 1994 World Cup in the United States. There was little Jorge Campos in goal. He was famous in Mexico for starting out his career as a striker and then changing to be goalkeeper. He was hugely popular in Mexico because he designed his own kits.
Hugo Sanchez also played and this was my first memory because in 1990 I was four and Mexico didn’t take part. I clearly remember the penalties of Italy against Brazil in the final and the pain on Roberto Baggio’s face. I watched the games at home with my parents, family and friends. The whole world stops to watch the World Cup, especially in my city, Guadlajara. It’s a real football city, with three teams there in the first division.
Did it come as a big surprise to play in your first World Cup aged just 19 in Germany four years ago? I had made my international debut in December 2005, just four months after my first club game for Atlas. I’ll never forget making my World Cup debut against Argentina in the last 16. Everybody thought that Argentina would beat us easily and it was a fascinating game, an amazing match.
We went ahead, but they beat us 2-1 in extra time because of that wonderful goal from Maxi Rodriguez. The players were so disappointed, but my feelings were mixed. I was not on the pitch in extra time and I felt high because I’d just played for Mexico against Argentina in the World Cup finals.
What are the expectations from Mexico in South Africa? There are big expectations. Mexico is very much a football country and the people are very enthusiastic and very loyal to the national team. They know that we have a good team and expect us to represent them well.
We are expected to qualify from our group. Mexico has done this in the last five World Cup finals. Once we get through, who knows? We’d hope to reach the quarter or even semi finals.
What do you know about the other teams in your group? South Africa are the hosts and they have everything in their favour to do well. They have the fans and know the cities and the stadiums. I know their national team has had problems, but African football has grown up in the last few years and there are some excellent players there.
Uruguay are always a difficult team to play against. They have big names like Diego Forlan and our defenders will have to be careful against them. Then there’s France, who will be seen as the strongest team in the group by many. They may have needed the hand of Thierry Henry to qualify, which they received a lot of justified criticism for, but when the World Cup starts that will all be forgotten. They have world class players and it will be a beautiful match, Mexico against France.
Why wasn’t Sven Goran Eriksson a success in Mexico? We had a bad patch with Eriksson as coach. It was difficult for him to adapt to Mexican football, he didn’t know the players very well and it damaged him. When he arrived, you could see that he was really looking forward to working with the squad and improving Mexican football. But he wasn’t given enough time to adapt to the conditions.
He’s a compelling coach and speaks clearly to the players. He knows exactly what he wants to transmit to the players and this helped us a lot, but we didn’t get the results needed for him. We lost against Jamaica, the United States and Honduras and then he was dismissed.
Tell us about the Mexican team and the football you play... We like to touch the ball, to pass it around and keep possession. Physically, we’re not a strong team. We don’t have tall or physical players who can compete with big African or English footballers. We will fight for the ball and we have some very skilful players and lots of pace. We are a difficult team to play against because of this.
What are Mexico’s strengths? We’ve got a great goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa. He’s only young and plays for America in Mexico, but I’m sure he’ll sign for a big club in Europe. Then there’s Giovanni Dos Santos, who played in England at Tottenham. I don’t think the English saw the best of him, but he has a lot of qualities and plays well for the national team. When he trusts himself, we see a better national side.
We’ve also got Rafa Marquez [Barcelona] - he’s our leader who can play in defence or midfield and is an excellent tackler and very comfortable with the ball; Gerardo Torado, -who played for Sevilla and has more than 100 caps and Carlos Salciso, an experienced and fast defender from PSV Eindhoven.
Guillermo Franco spent a long time with Villarreal, where he was very successful as a striker. He’s at West Ham now in England and although he’s not so young, he contributes a lot to the team.
What do you make of England’s chances at the World Cup? I like the England team. Terry, Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney – that’s a list of some very, very good players. The English have produced an excellent generation of players and have serious aspirations to win the World Cup.
But my favourite player in English football is Ryan Giggs. I’ve always watched him closely in order to improve my own game. He’s the perfect role model, not just for a left winger like me, but for any professional footballer. It’s a shame that he’s never played in a World Cup finals because he’s been a great player. I can’t think of a better player who has not played in the World Cup finals and that must be sad for him.
So are you a fan of English football? I like English football. I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to play there, but if I received a good offer I would like to play in the Premier League. The football is slower in South America and Mexico. The grass is longer so the ball doesn’t run as quickly as it does in Europe. Teams touch the ball a lot more in Spain and pass it around. In England, everything is very fast. I prefer the European style and especially the English style.
Interview: June 2010.