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Julian de Guzman leading Canada vs. Mexico in World Cup qualifying

Julian De Guzman
In what will be his final World Cup qualifying cycle, Julian de Guzman is hopeful of leading Canada to Russia 2018.

Canada team captain Julian de Guzman has a big task at hand this month. This Friday and then again next Tuesday the veteran will lead Canada into two World Cup qualifying matches against a very tough Mexico team. Although the midfielder recognizes the difficult task ahead of him, De Guzman remains confident that the current crop of Canadian players has what it takes to walk away with positive results in each match.

In an exclusive interview with ESPN FC, De Guzman shared his thoughts on the progress Canada has made, El Tri, and what to expect in Friday night's home game in Vancouver.

ESPN FC: How significant are the two upcoming matches against Mexico?

Julian de Guzman: This is a great deal for ourselves, the country and most of the players that are involved in this camp. This will definitely be the most important match in their international careers. I think at this point when you're facing teams like Mexico, which is probably the No. 1 team in CONCACAF at the moment and one of the best teams in the world, these are the encounters you have to deal with to prove to yourself that you belong in this stage leading up to the World Cup.

To have this opportunity to do that at home in front of a potential record attendance crowd, is a dream come true. This is a great way to celebrate a moment in Canadian soccer when things are starting to move forward and we just want to continue to bring in positive results.

ESPN FC: Can you describe the biggest obstacles when facing Mexico?

De Guzman: You're facing a team who is well-respected across the globe. These are world-class players you are dealing with. I think it's never an easy task to play teams like Mexico, even in the U.S.

For ourselves, I think it's a different type of approach we've had in the past. We definitely look forward to these types of games because we strongly believe that the qualities that we have and the type of players we are bringing in are much better and stronger than before.

As a team today, for Canada, this is a well-deserved moment to finally prove to the country and ourselves that we belong among the best in CONCACAF.

ESPN FC: What can fans expect from Canada against El Tri?

De Guzman: We are going to be a difficult team to play against, we produce a lot of positive results at home. The last time we lost at home was against Peru, I can't remember exactly when (Sept. 2010), but it's been awhile since we have lost. That's something that we don't have on our itinerary when it comes to playing at home.

It's a different type of team presented now, the fans are enjoying it and slowly but surely we are getting respect from the media. The results don't lie, if you really spend time watching how we've become more of a complete team, you can see the quality of football and our understanding of the game has also changed.

Tactically we have improved and I think as long as we are strong team tactically, it gives us a better chance to perform well and also to get the good results.

ESPN FC: Is there a growing fan base in Canada and will there be a packed house in Vancouver on Mar. 25?

De Guzman: We set an attendance record in the last game against Honduras in November and that was around 25,000 in our home game in Canada. It has been said that over 50,000 [tickets] have been sold, and that just goes to show that if you get the results, you get the respect and that follows with fans coming to the game and supporting.

I think that we owe something to the fans and they've been very patient. A game like the one that will be played in BC [Place] on Mar. 25 is a great way to really give them a treat that they have been waiting for and it's also a game-changing moment for soccer in Canada.

ESPN FC: Back in your Deportivo La Coruna days, you played with Andres Guardado. Describe what it was like to play with him.

De Guzman: I've been now watching him play [laughs], against Atletico Madrid [in the Champions League]. The role that he has now, I guess he has as more of a central midfield player. He's a player who has a lot of experience internationally as well and plays a major role for his club and country.

But, playing with him in La Coruna, he was more of an attacking winger. He was a guy who had a very strong left foot, who was dynamic, and would take on players one-on-one. You could see he has matured over the years. He has been able to play in a position in the midfield, looking at the national team, more centrally as well.

[He is] Somebody who really dictates the game and he's also a brilliant leader and I'm definitely looking forward to matching up with him.

ESPN FC: Do you still remain in contact with Guardado?

De Guzman: No, I haven't really talked to him. Just memories of La Coruna, always good memories with him, as a person as well. As a player, he is phenomenal and most of the contact has always been on the pitch anyways. I haven't really talked to him ever since.

Julian de Guzman
De Guzman, whose lone goal at Deportivo came against Real Madrid, was teammates with Mexico captain Andres Guardado for two seasons in La Coruna.

ESPN FC: Other than Guardado, who stands out to you from the Mexican side?

De Guzman: Chicharito [Hernandez] is on fire right now, [Giovani] Dos Santos picked up an injury so he won't be fit for that game. There are a lot of players from the Mexican side who are in their season, playing in Europe as well, and doing really well.

There's a lot of young guys with energy that we did see in that last game against Honduras, they have something to really offer. It won't be an easy side and we never expect a Mexico side to be very easy. It's going to be a tough game and it will definitely bring out the best from both sides.

ESPN FC: How many points do you believe Canada will walk away with against Mexico this month?

De Guzman: Ideally, it would be great to walk away with six [laughs], that would be a definite dream come true. I think it's very possible to get three points; that would be our goal at the very least. Four points would be phenomenal; I think four points would be no different than six points. To walk away with one point, that still puts us with a lot of work to do against Honduras and El Salvador, but not thinking that far ahead, we really want to take advantage of what we have been able to produce at home.

Any team that plays against us at home, now especially at this stage, is beatable. We want to put that to the test before going to Mexico. Playing in Mexico, to get a win is almost taboo.

ESPN FC: Looking at Group A for World Cup qualifying, which two teams do you believe will make it into the final hexagonal stage?

De Guzman: At this moment, everyone is putting their focus on Mexico and on ourselves as well. Which is, for me, a special feeling but we have been in this position in the last campaign. Things turned around, came down to the last game and slipped out of our hands.

With one game a lot of things can change, that's exactly how you want to take it, game to game. We aren't looking that far ahead at this moment, we want to take care of our business at home against Mexico and then we will have a better idea of which two teams could potentially walk out of the group.

ESPN FC: Will we see Canada play in the 2018 World Cup?

De Guzman: Yes. That is the belief that every national team player has. That's what's on our minds, that is what we are playing for and that is our mission. Russia 2018 and having Canada in the World Cup is the ultimate mission at the moment. I strongly believe it, and having the fans there you can see the belief that they have, which is great.

It's definitely possible for us. Again, this is probably one of the better Canadian sides you'll see for an official match that Canada has had in the past. Definitely looking forward to it.

Cesar Hernandez covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @cesarhfutbol.

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