Queretaro teen Marcel Ruiz handles sudden spotlight, keeps focus on Qatar

QUERETARO, Mexico -- Marcel Ruiz enters the interview room at the Mexican federation's facilities with apprehension. It's a new experience for him. His eyes reveal feelings of uncertainty over the questions to come, over how he'll handle more than three interviews in less than 15 minutes. He's never been through anything like this.

"It's easier to be on the pitch," said Queretaro's newest sensation, who at just 17 already had his first stint with Mexico's senior team a couple of weeks ago after being a part of the Under-20 squad in games against Brazil and Japan. "It's a very different experience from any I have had. There are players from all the clubs and I'm getting to know them little by little. I think the group is tight, all of them have treated me well."

The last two months have been an exercise in extremes for the midfielder Ruiz, who in just nine Liga MX appearances with Queretaro already has a goal and a starting spot to go with an international cap for El Tri's upcoming World Cup qualifying round in November.

Queretaro manager Rafael Puente del Rio got the ball rolling when he observed Ruiz in the preseason. He liked what he saw and called him up to the first team.

"Everything is new, from the way you travel, training, everything is different. But I've been learning," Ruiz said.

His progress has been notable in terms of months. It wasn't too long ago that he was playing U-17 football, but now he's rubbing shoulders with players from the senior circuit. Still, he puts his head down and competes, not yet paying much attention to the fact that his dreams have become reality.

"I've picked up on everything and am playing in a different manner," he said. "There's a big difference between U-17 football and the First Division, even just the whole atmosphere. I don't think it's difficult, and I face it with a lot of excitement. I worked all my life for this moment, debuting in the First Division, scoring my first goal and being on the national team. I'm very happy about all of that."

A fan of Barcelona and a faithful follower of Andres Iniesta, whom he seeks to emulate on the pitch, Ruiz still has goals left to accomplish. Those include keeping his spot on Los Gallos Blancos and collecting more international caps -- and not just for the junior teams, with his eyes fixed squarely on Qatar 2022.

After all, the 2026 World Cup in North America is still a ways away.

"Of course I envision it. I would like to represent Mexico in 2026, but by that point it could be too late," Ruiz said. "Ideally for me, I'd be on the team in Qatar, and I think there is plenty of talent here that a lot of us could do it."

Born in Merida, in the Mexican state of Yucatan, Ruiz moved to Queretaro at five years old. Tthat's where he came to know, like and play the sport -- to the point that he finds himself where he is today, with plenty of objectives ahead.

"My goal is to stay on, but it doesn't end here," he said. "I want mine to be a successful career in which I can also represent the national team."