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(Yonhap Interview) Ever the diplomat, Mexican amb. to S. Korea predicts draw between two at 2018 World Cup

2018/05/03 09:04

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By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, May 3 (Yonhap) -- When South Korea and Mexico go head-to-head at the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer, Bruno Figueroa Fischer, Mexican ambassador to South Korea, knows he'll be put in an awkward position.

In his interview with Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday, Figueroa admitted that he is facing a "delicate" situation after South Korea and Mexico were drawn into the same group at the World Cup in Russia.

"It's like you're in a binational family where you have father coming from one country and mother from another country," he said. "And their kids don't know which country to support. You know, my work here is to unite (the two countries), not to divide them."

   Just like many other Mexicans, Figueroa, who came to South Korea last year, said he likes football and the World Cup is an event he can't miss.

"As a Mexican, football is natural since you're a boy," he said. "I came from Mexico City, and I've been to Aztec Stadium and Olympic University Stadium where many important matches are played."

  

Bruno Figueroa Fischer, Mexican Ambassador to South Korea, poses for a photo at his office in Seoul on May 2, 2018. (Yonhap) Bruno Figueroa Fischer, Mexican Ambassador to South Korea, poses for a photo at his office in Seoul on May 2, 2018. (Yonhap)

Both South Korea and Mexico are in Group F at the 2018 World Cup, along with Germany and Sweden. The two countries will play their second group stage match at Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 23.

As a Mexican, Figueroa said he will support his home country, but his prediction for the score was 1-1. After all, he is a diplomat.

"I can answer it very diplomatically, and I think there's going to be a tie," he said. "In this case, as many people say, let the best team win."

   Mexico lead South Korea in head-to-head matches, having collected six wins, two draws and four losses against South Korea. One of their victories was at the 1998 World Cup in France, where Mexico beat South Korea 3-1.

"Both teams are very interesting teams, and they will give challenges to each other," he said. "Everyone knows Mexico's win at the 1998 World Cup, but that was 20 years ago. Mexico can't take Korea for granted."

   Mexico are only one of the three teams to reach the knockout stage of every World Cup since 1994. But during that time, they have not been able to go beyond the round of 16.

Figueroa believes it's time to break that curse. He said Mexico have "pretty good chances" to advance quite far.

"We really hope to make up to quarterfinals and why not semifinals?" he said. "We have a very strong team, a boosted team."

  

This photo taken by the Associated Press on July 9, 2017, shows the Mexico national football team during the 2018 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States. (Yonhap) This photo taken by the Associated Press on July 9, 2017, shows the Mexico national football team during the 2018 CONCACAF Gold Cup in the United States. (Yonhap)

Besides South Korea, Figueroa said Germany and Sweden are strong opponents, but that doesn't mean the two teams are guaranteed spots in the round of 16.

"Germany are very strong, and it's difficult to imagine that they don't pass (the group stage)," he said. "Sweden are quite strong, but historically they had some failures. Maybe Mexico can break Sweden and collect a draw with Germany."

   In Figueroa's scenario, Mexico can pass the group stage with one win and two draws. When asked about South Korea's possibility of reaching the round of 16, Figueroa said he wants to see the Taeguk Warriors also advancing to the knockout round.

"Korea can go very far, and we've seen that before," he said. "Korea is really an amazing team. It's their inner strength that has taken the team to the semifinals in 2002."

   Figueroa said South Korea's Europe-based players -- such as Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur and Ki Sung-yueng of Swansea City -- will be a threat to other teams.

"They have great experience, and they can bring top-level football," he said. "It's important that they can 'cohese' the national team."

   As for his side, Figueroa said Mexico should play as a team. He believes their star players with experience will lead Mexico to positive results.

"This team really needs to play together strongly," he said. "We have outstanding players like Chicharito, Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado, Oribe Peralta, and we have a young player named Hirving Lozano who plays for PSV Eindhoven and has a huge potential."

  

In this file photo taken June 13, 1998, South Korea's Kim Do-hoon (R) vies for the ball with Mexican players during the Group E match between South Korea and Mexico at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken June 13, 1998, South Korea's Kim Do-hoon (R) vies for the ball with Mexican players during the Group E match between South Korea and Mexico at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. (Yonhap)

Figueroa said his home country will be in a festive mode when the World Cup starts. He said Mexicans are crazy about football, and people will see huge celebrations in the streets when the team wins.

"It's amazing how the country stops working when there's a match," he said. "My second daughter was born in June 2002, and I still remember that the doctor for my wife was distracted to watch a football match."

   Figueroa plans to enjoy that kind of energetic atmosphere with embassy employees in South Korea. He lamented that it can't organize big events for the match with the public since it will be played late at night but said his Mexican friends in South Korea will nonetheless watch the match live. In Korean time, the Mexico-South Korea match will start at 12 a.m. on June 24.

"We're looking for a place like sports bar to watch the match," he said. "Fortunately, it's weekend, so we can stay late night. It will be interesting to see how Mexican and Korean employees here cheer for their national teams."

   As for his prediction for this year's World Cup champion, Figueroa said he thinks a Latin American country will lift the trophy.

"It's always been between European and Latin American teams," he said. "Without giving the name of the team, let's hope that the World Cup can go to a Latin American team."

  

In this file photo taken Jan. 29, 2014, Mexican football fans take photos with South Korean football fans ahead of an international football friendly match between Mexico and South Korea at the Alamodome in San Antonio, United States. (Yonhap) In this file photo taken Jan. 29, 2014, Mexican football fans take photos with South Korean football fans ahead of an international football friendly match between Mexico and South Korea at the Alamodome in San Antonio, United States. (Yonhap)

While the World Cup will bring South Korea and Mexico together, Figueroa said he wants to see more sports interactions between the two sides even though they are geographically far apart.

"We had four different sports activities since I came here last year," he said. "In football, we saw our national team competing at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea last year and at the JS Cup this year. Our taekwondo gold medalist Maria Espinoza was also in South Korea, and two young Mexicans are learning baduk here. And don't forget, we also participated at the PyeongChang Olympics."

   kdon@yna.co.kr

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