In an exclusive interview with Goal.com, Puebla midfielder Gonzalo Pineda recalled his Olympic experience in 2004 and offered advice to this year's U23 team.
Gonzalo Pineda Reyes, who played for Mexico in the 2006 World Cup, remembers with great affection the 2004 Olympic qualifying tournament in Guadalajara. His performance won him a call to the senior national team and he lived one of the best moments of his career.
In the tournament, Mexico tied with Costa Rica on seven points on top of Group B, but inferior goal difference forced it into a semifinal match with the United States. El Tri would go on to beat their archrival 4-0 and then won the qualifying tournament with an extra time victory over Costa Rica.
"It was a very good tournament for us. We achieved qualification. It was a team with very good players and that reached a great level in that moment," Pineda recalled in an exclusive interview with Goal.com U.S. Latino.
He specifically highlighted an incident in which U.S. forward Landon Donovan was photographed urinating on the Estadio Jalisco field during a match in that tournament that motivated the team to success.
"I remember that incident where [Landon] Donovan went to the bathroom in the Estadio Jalisco and they photographed it. That was an extra bit of motivation for us. We saw it as an insult and that helped us motivate ourselves," Pineda added.
"It is without a doubt an unforgettable experience," Pineda said of qualifying, adding that he felt the same about the Olympics.
"What I experienced in Athens was something unforgettable. It is a tournament that very few athletes can get to. Going to the Olympics must be given the value it deserves."
However, after being held in its opener by Mali and falling to 1-0 to South Korea, a 3-2 win over host Greece was not enough to see Mexico through to the knockout rounds. It was a forgettable return for El Tri, who missed out on the 2000 Olympics and would fail to qualify for the tournament in 2008.
Even so, Pineda believes that the experience of participating in the Olympics should help motivate the team. He argued, "Mexican soccer should be there because of the quality its players have now and because it is a unique experience."
Pineda comments that while he doesn’t see a trip to London 2012 as an obligation, he believes Mexican soccer should be at all the top soccer tournaments it can.
"In soccer there are no obligations because the ball is round and it can go to whichever side and many things can happen, but there exists the idea that Mexico should be at all the Olympic Games," he explained.
About the failed campaigns that Mexico has had at this level, Pineda believes that the problem doesn’t happen because of issues of quality.
"I believe that it happens more because of a mental issue that because of some of the team’s failures to qualify to the Olympics, those negative thoughts come, but they shouldn’t exist," he argued. "We must confide in the quality that exists in the U23s. It is a plenty complete team with many players that are already in the senior team. They simply have to be confident and they will do very well.”
The 29-year-old midfielder also highlighted some of the potential stars he sees in the squad, mentioning in particular the central defensive pairing of Hiram Mier and Nestor Araujo.
"Hiram Mier and Nestor Araujo, I like this pairing a lot, they are quick, technical players," he said.
"I like how Chatón [Jorge Enriquez] plays. Marco Fabian is a player that, when he is in good form, he makes a difference. And there are some others, those from Pumas [Javier Cortes and David Cabrera]. It is a very complete team in all sectors of the pitch and there is competitiveness and I like this team very much."
Finally, the Puebla man took the opportunity to send a message to the national team players before their first test, on Friday against Trinidad and Tobago.
"Play without pressure: You are a great team. Believe in yourselves," he urged. "The teams from the area make themselves strong with their physique and their speed, the Trinidadians are very strong players that try to compensate for the technical part with the physical part, but you shouldn’t have fear. You are great players, a great team, a great group, that will without a doubt be the future of the senior team.
"I hope that many take it that way, without any type of pressure, only with the confidence in that it is within your power to be at the Olympics and knowing the importance of the Olympics."
Jose Ruiz (@joseruizmillan) contributed reporting to this article.