Martín 'El Pulpo' Zúñiga is a soccer legend and former Selección Mexicana goalkeeper. He is one of Chivas’ finest players from his era, and was known for his hands-on skills and quickness. Zuñiga is a top tier Mexican goalkeeper, having played in other Mexican Clubs, including Tigres, Celaya, Puebla and Veracruz. Zúñiga, in partnership with Allstate Insurance Company, the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer, spoke with Latin Times about El Tri's World Cup hopes.
LT: How will 'El Tri' overcome the loss of Luis Montes?
In the face of adversity it is important to show courage and strength and I think the team has been doing a really great job. Miguel Herrera has a certain responsibility now to make sure his team leaves this behind, without, of course, forgetting their teammate, and that they’ll be able to find a way to use this as a means of strengthening the team. We’ve seen in the past teams using events like this as a positive, dedicating matches to their fallen comrade, as a way of uniting a team in a difficult situation.
LT: Javier Aquino has replaced Luis Montes. What will Javier bring to the team?
Speed. He knows how to play a number of positions. He also has played a number of seasons with Villarreal and is in a great position coming into the World Cup. He also played with his team recently in Japan, which tells us that he is fit and ready for a tournament.
LT: So, generally speaking, how do you see El Tri right now?
I see them looking really good. I mean, despite having so little time to work with the team, Miguel Herrera has managed to make the most of it. I think the matches in the lead up to the World Cup have been ideal, and I think every time Mexico is learning more, particularly on the offensive side which has always been a worry for El Tri. I think it’s a team which has a greater knowledge of itself every time and, truly, I see that above and beyond the individual players, it has been growing as a team.
LT: Going into the World Cup, what is missing from the team?
I think that first of all there is so little time. But I think that what is most important is that the team is well defined, in terms of what they have to do and what they need to work on. Individual players need to have their own responsibilities well defined: nowadays that’s what football is about. The more people know about themselves and each other as a team, the better it will be.
LT: Does the fact that Mexico has trained in Mexico City with the altitude will be an advantage for El Tri?
Not really. Nowadays, all teams are well prepared physically. For Mexico, it won’t be a problem at all to play in Brazil – they are totally ready. However, it will be tough for all teams to deal with the humidity that will be a factor in a number of matches. But that’s going to be hardest for the European teams that are most used to playing in a very different climate, particularly Germany, England and Spain. Mexico is generally made up of very resilient players: in Mexico, you might play one match at sea level and a week later be playing at the altitude of D.F. or Toluca. The last thing we have is any kind of fear of climactic conditions. However, we do nee to be physically prepared for every match.
LT: Can you talk a little bit about the African style of football and how you see the Mexico’s first match against Cameroon?
African teams are generally very physical teams. They play a very fast game, particularly from the midfield forward. Occasionally playing that way causes them problems at a defensive level, something which Mexico will have to be pay very close attention to if they are to take advantage of it. Our last point of reference is when Mexico played Nigeria in Atlanta. Mexico played a great match, but there were certain elements that took them by surprise, particularly the counterattacks of the Nigerian team, which is something they are going to have to deal with against Cameroon. So I think the road to the World Cup has been very important – the matches have been great for replicating the teams that Mexico will face in Brazil.
LT: Let’s talk about Brazil. How do you see the team right now and what chance does Mexico have against them?
Well look, first of all it’s important to remember that two teams pass from the first round. Since Mexico found out that Brazil was in their pool, one has to be realistic and realize that there is really only one place, because the other place is Brazil’s. They play better, they are incredibly strong and they are playing in their hometown. So once again, the match against Cameroon is key. So, for Mexico, although the Brazilian’s are technically brilliant, I think that Mexico as a team can beat them. Mexico needs to play as a team and not lose concentration. Brazil has an excellent defensive team right now, something which in the past has been an issue.
LT: The match against Croatia is going to be critical isn’t it?
Definitely. It’s the match that might decide it all. There are two things that might happen. Firstly, Mexico has to beat Cameroon. You visualize the future, and you want to see the best outcome: I would like to see Mexico beating Brazil, but it’s going to be a very tough match. And depending on the outcome, you have to play it all against Croatia. Croatia is a tough team, very meticulous in terms of its defense and a team which has, if not so many star players, a very strong team dynamic.
LT: El Tri has been playing together for a relatively short period of time. How do you think they will be able to find that sense of camaraderie so key to the World Cup?
This where I think La Selección is in great hands. Because if Miguel Herrera has something, it’s an ability to bring people together. Naturally there is nothing like working together for an extended period of time. But under the current circumstances, I think Miguel Herrera has done an excellent job of bringing the team together. That’s why when he has faced criticism for choosing players who he has played with before in America, well he’s taking them because they know what he needs, which makes training them quicker and easier. So I think he’s done a remarkable job, particularly given that he’s only had six months to work with the team. Of course, we want to see a great Mexican team, scoring goals and working defensively, individually and as a team, but I think that, given the circumstances, Herrera has done a great job.
LT: What about individually – who are going to be the key players for Mexico?
I think the leadership of Rafa Marquez is going to be key to the team. There is no player in Mexico like Rafael Marquez: he has played all over the world with a number of teams and he has done so with great success. He has great experience and the gift of leadership: above all, he has a tremendous technical ability and a way of leading his whole team from his position. It’s also great to have leader in offense like Oribe Peralta who is a key goal scorer for Mexico and will no doubt play a major role in the World Cup.
LT: Do you think the fact that Mexico won the gold medal at the Olympics in London two years ago will have an impact on the attitude of the team?
Absolutely. The prestige of a team comes from achievements. It’s not enough to play well – you have to win. And you have to win important matches. And the fact that Mexico won the gold brought them precisely that prestige. I can guarantee you that other teams now look at Mexico as a complex opponent. I think this is particularly true of the Brazilian team which Mexico has been able to overcome in certain key matches: it will make them think twice about how they look at El Tri.
LT: Besides Mexico, which team do you see as having the best chance of winning the World Cup?
I think that the teams which have the best chance are: Brazil, for playing on their home soil and for their individual and collective technical ability; and Argentina, who I think will be a serious competitor. Other than that, in a World Cup, you have to just beat whatever team is in front of you. And I think these two have an enormous ability and they’ll be playing in a part of the world where they are most used to playing.