Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Football Fever - Ambassadors tout their country's World Cup chances

Published:Saturday | June 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Lukaku
Ariel Fernandez
Gonzales Mijares, Mexican ambassador to Jamaica.
Guy Sevrin
Young Gyu Lee
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Mijares - I think we can go far in the World Cup 

More than 30,000 Mexicans are expected to be in Russia for the 2018 World Cup. While Juan Jose Gonzales Mijares, the Mexican ambassador to Jamaica, will not be among the number, he feels that 'El Tricolor' stands a reasonable, if not spectacular, chance of lifting the trophy come July 14.

"Mexico has been one of the most consistent teams since 1950. We have been to six straight World Cups since USA 1994 and will be looking to surprise the world in Russia," Gonzales Mijares said.

"We have a very competitive team, and we do not fear any other country at all," he said.

They will have to contend with the likes of the defending champions Germany in a Group F match tomorrow.

"We are in a tough group. We will come up against Germany, and we are hoping for a great start against them. That game will be played at the Luzhniki Stadium and perhaps create that surprise moment," Gonzales Mijares reasoned.

The ambassador said that Sweden and South Korea, the other Group F teams, would not be easy either, but he noted that it might be a lot easier taking points from them than against the methodical Germans.

Winning or even placing second in the group means that Mexico could set up a second-round clash with one of the pre-World Cup favourites, Brazil, but Gonzales Mijares said that he had no fears about that possibility.

"We will play whoever we have to play, and, hopefully, do well enough to progress," he said.

Their sixth-place finish at home in the 1986 edition is still their best placing. But in Russia, they are hoping for a better showing, according to Gonzales Mijares.

"I am aware of this Brazil team. They are very strong, but Mexico has a good team that will also be challenging. So if Mexico wins the World Cup, it would be like travelling to Mars and Neptune. It will be out of this world," said Gonzales Mijares.

 

This World Cup represents Belgium's best chance of lifting a first-ever title. The current crop of players and the style which Coach Roberto Martinez has employed have given hope to Ambassador Guy Sevrin.

"It is important for the Red Devils and for the country that this team does well at the World Cup. We have some really great players playing in the English Premier League, and many of them are in this squad, so it would be nice to see them going on to win it," Sevrin told The Gleaner.

He said that Belgium had a great chance of reaching the semi-finals and that with some luck, "maybe win it all".

The Red Devils, as they are called, will meet debutante Panama at the Fisht Stadium on Monday, and later on, Tunisia and England in a tricky Group G clash. Sevrin predicted that his country would win the group ahead of England but offered caution as "anything can happen in sports".

"But if we managed to win the World Cup, we are going to be drinking some Belgian beer. I will be following all the games on TV and will be putting all on this Belgian team to win," Sevrin said.

"All of us at the embassy are very excited, and I think we can go far in the World Cup. We have (Romelu) Lukaku who has golden feet. I am sure that the golden boots will fit him well," he said of the striker.

Sevrin - I hope South Korea makes second round 

South Koreans are just as football crazy as everyone else. But unlike 2002 when they enjoyed a fairy tale run to the semi-finals in front of thousands of adoring home fans, this 2018 Russia World Cup expectation is a lot more reserved, at least, that's the view taken by the Charge d'affaires to Jamaica, Young Gyu Lee.

"Korea has been a regular attendant at the World Cup for the past nine consecutive times. Hence, it is no wonder that Korea qualified this time, too.

South Korea is drawn in Group F and will face the power and precision of the defending champions Germany as well as CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico. South Korea will open their account against Sweden on Monday at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.

Young noted that while he expected the Koreans, nicknamed the 'Taegeuk Warriors', to come out of the group stage, most Koreans were doubtful that the team would be that successful.

"You know that Korea advanced to the semi-final at the Seoul World Cup 2002, finishing fourth, and all that really enthralled us Korean people. However, the majority of us do not expect this Korea team to advance to the second round of 16 this time," Young said.

"That's because some of our major players will miss the competition due to their physical injury," Young added.

God has blessed us with Maradona and Messi - Fernandez

In assessing his country's chances of winning the 2018 World Cup, Argentina Ambassador to Jamaica Ariel Fernandez's buzzwords were "competitive" and "Messi".

The two-time champions face tiny Iceland in their opening Group D fixture at the Spartak Stadium today. Fernandez is not only confident of a victory, but that his country's best player at the World Cup, Lionel Messi, will get on the score sheet to be on his way to finally walking away with the Golden Boot award.

"We want to be competitive; we want to win all the games, and although it will be a difficult run, we have Messi, and anything is possible," Fern·ndez said.

He told The Gleaner: "In Argentina, we have a saying that God has blessed us with M and M - Maradona and Messi. There is no secret. Messi is easily the great player that he is, and I am sure the team will do well."

Noting Argentina's World Cup history, Fernandez said that unlike four years ago, the squad this time around was a better mix of attack and defence. He is, therefore, expecting to win the group ahead of Nigeria, Croatia, and Iceland.

"The make-up of the team is stronger than in 2014. I hope that we win the title, and I am feeling excited that we will get off with a fine victory over Iceland," Fern·ndez said.

"It will be the third time that we are facing Nigeria in the group stage at the World Cup, and we have a fairly good record against them. So, topping the group will very much depend on winning that match, as well as the one against Croatia. It is going to be interesting and fun," he added.

Fernandez said that he is predicting that the World Cup will be an open affair but was quick to note Argentina's pedigree and litany of world-class players led by the indomitable Messi.

Argentina will be making its 18th appearance at the World Cup, twice winning it in 1978 (at home) and again in 1986 (Mexico City).

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com