ANGEL GONZALEZ / AIPS* in DUBAI: “We must be calm and play our game to win.” Those were the words of Mexico coach Raul Gutierrez ahead of his team’s tie with Italy in the second round of the FIFA U -17 World Cup UAE 2013.
Outwardly cool, with short and sharp answers, El Potro sought to convey calm before the big game and the pursuit of tournament progress.
However, the coach knows that the match against the Italians is not only about reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup: a triumph for the Tri would represent a ray of hope for the Mexican football in general.
Mexico reached the Under-17s against an atmosphere of scepticism and not because of poor performance. Rather, it is the senior team which is experiencing one of the worst of times with qualification for Brazil 2014 in jeopardy.
On their debut in the United Arab Emirates, Mexico suffered the worst possible result: a 6-1 defeat by Nigeria. Back in Mexico the criticism came fast.
“The curse strikes all Mexican football, even the world champions,” was an example of headlines in various national newspapers.
Gutierrez always remained calm and confident in his team and he has the achievements to back it up, after the world championship win in 2011.
Now the situation is different with his team under pressure to demonstrate that they do not share the bad moment of Mexican football.
After the slow start, Gutierrez understood that working with the players was not so much about events on the pitch but off it to ensure that Mexico could be contenders.
“This is part of the job and part of what everyone of the players can live,” he said. “They hit a rough start, a very difficult test – especially emotionally – and they showed character, that they had the personality to recover in two days, make a good match against Iraq and re-assert themselves against Sweden.”
Now, in the round of 16, Mexico face another obstacle in the search for further progress: Italy.
Gutierrez has studied the European players and trusts his players and their continued improvement.
He said: “We will win with our style of playing, we will not change anything, we will continue playing well and trying to improve on what we do and hope that the team will do what it takes to deserve to win.”
Success in the UAE would represent not only a third trophy for Mexico but demonstrate a bright future for the national team.
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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