Mexico's road to football success doesn't end with the gold medal victory over Brazil.
The Panasonic TV only had one visible channel. The signal came from Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca, and it was an early December morning, two days away from noche buena. The essence of that Primero Noticias newscast, anchored by Carlos Loret de Mola, was relaxed with a clear Christmas feel.
Finally, after watching a story of how families prepared sweet tamales and atole, came the long-awaited sports report. The year was 2004 and Antonio de Valdés, one of Televisa’s leading sports specialists, introduced a report on two young brothers playing for FC Barcelona’s youth system. Their names were Giovani dos Santos and Jonathan dos Santos.
The idea of having two players with Brazilian blood playing with FC Barcelona, while also feeling el tricolor colors passionately, allowed me to conclude that times would be changing for Mexican football.
Out of that report, even with its relaxed Christmas feel, it was easy to get the sense that Giovani would be a special player. He was the protagonist, while the younger Jonathan played the role of the "little brother looking up to the big brother". In October 2005, wearing Mexico’s number 8 and dazzling Peru with his prodigious left foot, Giovani led Mexico to its first FIFA title at the U-17 World Cup.
That 2005 Chucho Ramírez squad became the first Mexico team to say to the world, "Hey, the Americas are not just about the Argentinas, Brazils, and Uruguays; we also want some football attention." The team's 3-0 victory over Brazil in the final, with Marcelo guarding the left flank, magnified the idea that the players fully believed in themselves. The win also set the bar high, as for this group there was no such thing as impossible.
Mexico’s new football generations since that evening in Peru have grown as players with the idea that if they want to be the best, they can. Fast forward six years later to an erupting Azteca Stadium as Giovani Casillas scores against Uruguay, giving Mexico the 2-0 win and a second U-17 world championship.
El Potro Gutiérrez’s chavos showed a lot of character in that 2011 tournament, especially in extra time of the semifinal round against a loaded Germany team. No one will ever forget that heroic Julio Gómez’s chilena. No one will ever forget Jorge Espericueta’s vision of the field and his olympic goal.
Months later, Jorge "El Chaton" Enríquez and Diego Reyes, after participating in a depressing and mortifying Copa America, led Mexico’s U-20 to the semi-finals. The quarterfinal match against the host, Colombia, in a raucous Campín Stadium saw the determination of La Pajara Chávez’s lads winning 3-1 and leaving the stadium silent. Édson Rivera stole the show with his two goals, which helped him earn a contract with Sporting Braga of Portugal.
Wembley Stadium’s walls heard El Cielito Lindo, but before London partied a la Mexicana, Mexico won the Pan-American games and the Toulon Tournament. These two tournaments provided Mexico with all the confidence to win an Olympic medal, a medal that turned gold August 11, 2012.
Oribe Peralta’s two goals against Brazil in the Olympic final will be in the minds of millions for years to come. Who knows how many times he dreamt for this day and asked why it didn’t came sooner in his life. Peralta will always be Mexico’s Cepillo and his first World Cup is on the horizon.
Mexico lives its international breakthrough thanks to coaches who listen and understand the players, like Luis Fernando Tena, as well as for the long term plans proposed and executed by directors like Nestor de La Torre. There has also been the change in mentality, which lives out of perseverance and want to be the best in a sport that rushes through the veins of millions.
Mexico won a gold medal in the nation’s most popular sport, football. It’s a monumental achievement, but not the biggest in Mexico football history. If the current coaching staff manages to maintain the plan and discipline like it has, they will leave a huge mark through the country’s most cared about team – la selección mexicana de fútbol. The best for Mexico is yet to come.
The list of players who have brought a huge breath of joy to Mexico is immense, and the group has touched the hearts of many, from the carnicero in Campeche to the poblano chef in New York City.
Giovani dos Santos did not play in the Wembley Final, but he made his presence felt with his goals and leadership during the Olympics. It is obvious that Mexico’s number 10 has something special, and success always finds a way to find him.
Gracias muchachos pero esto no para aquí! (Thank you guys, but this [moment] does not end here!)