Angel Sepulveda staying typically humble after dream Mexico debut

MEXICO CITY - Angel "El Cuate" Sepulveda didn't look comfortable being interviewed inside the Mexican national team's plush training complex on the eve of El Tri's World Cup qualifier against Honduras.

The 25-year-old winger answered ESPN's questions articulately, was polite and a willing interviewee, but the tightly clasped hand around the microphone and deadpan face highlighted clear signs of nerves.

Sepulveda has probably not been interviewed much on camera. The Queretaro player had enjoyed a low-key career at Morelia, Toros Neza, Atlante and Queretaro, that is until his national team debut last Friday, when he scored and was a key figure in Mexico's 3-1 victory over El Salvador.

The performance propelled Sepulveda on the national soccer scene really for the first time, just three years since he was plying his trade for Toros Neza down in Mexico's second division.

"It was an unforgettable night," said Sepulveda in an interview with ESPN's John Sutcliffe. "It was a dream come true to be with the national team and represent a whole country."

It was an impressive performance from Sepulveda and he was widely praised. He scored the important second in the win and his penetration, directness and ability to run with the ball certainly unsettled El Salvador. The Central American side's defense was never comfortable, especially in the second half.

The "dream" debut is a cliche, but what you want to do is make an impression and send a message that you belong at international level. Sepulveda certainly did that, although he is being careful not to let it go to his head.

"[Dealing with the attention] could be difficult, but I've always been a humble person before being a footballer," said Sepulveda. "I may be famous or better known now, but I always have my feet on the ground. I'm not bigger or better than anyone, but I'm not worse either."

The competition for places on the wings for Mexico is steep, with youngsters Hirving Lozano and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona on the rise, but it isn't difficult to see why coach Juan Carlos Osorio has taken to Sepulveda when you hear him speak.

And, at a stretch, Sepulveda may be the first example of Osorio's much-criticized rotation policy throwing up a new potential Mexico squad regular, although Nestor Araujo may argue he beat him to it.

"It's always important to be able to get the opportunity," stated Sepulveda. "I've fought a long time to achieve [this] and to demonstrate that I can be [in El Tri] and do things well."

The phrase was snapshot into the mind of Sepulveda and points to a humility and work ethic that Mexico could do with in buckets after the humiliating 7-0 loss to Chile back in June.

Sepulveda is a native of Apatzingan, in the state of Michoacan, a pueblo that has suffered waves of violence in recent years.

"It's marginal, far from everything," explained Sepulveda. "It was a struggle to work and dream of playing in the first division. Not a lot of players come from [Apatzingan]. Day to day life is difficult."

The player himself was involved in an ugly incident eight years ago as a youth teamer, when the players in local side Mapaches de Nueva Italia, where Sepulveda was playing, were taken into custody en masse during a game against a Club America youth team because the owner was linked to narco-trafficking.

"We didn't have anything to do with it, we didn't even know why they took us away," said Sepulveda in an interview with Excelsior. "Then the team was disaffiliated [from the FMF] and I didn't play for almost three months."

Given the tough route to the top, it was no surprise that after Sepulveda's debut for El Tri, he received a lot of positive messages from proud folks back in a town whose name has been tainted with negative headlines.

For Sepulveda, more interview requests, increased attention and the trappings of fame are all set to follow, as well as more Mexico caps, especially if he continues his international career as he has started it.