JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Ten years ago Carlos Salcido was so desperate that three times he risked his young life trying to escape Mexico's grinding poverty for the American dream of California.
Three times Salcido, whose mother died when he was a teenager, was caught by US border guards and unceremoniously despatched back over the border.
Now, a decade later, the 30-year-old from Ocotlan, near Guadalajara, is on the verge of playing in the World Cup second round.
The Mexican central defender, who plays his club football for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league, is enjoying the experience of his second World Cup after a win over France left the side on the brink of advancing to the last 16.
It's a long way from his roots.
Salcido had not made the grade when at 20 he impressed scouts from Guadalajara having joined friends in a kickabout after a spell with lower league side Gallos de Aguascalientes.
The talent spotters immediately recommended him to Chivas Rayadas.
After more than 100 games with the top flight side, PSV took a fancy to him and he made his move to Europe in 2006, since when he has made 120 appearances with the Eredivisie outfit, winning the title in his first season.
"It's been like a dream. Never before had I left Mexico - save for when I crossed illegally into California to look for work," said Salcido.
Born on April 2, 1980 into a poor family, Salcido lost his mother at 15 and moved to find work in nearby Guadalajara, working for one of the 'maquiladoras' assembly plant firms where goods are put together with imported materials before being sent back to the original market.
He also worked as a carpenter as he desperately tried to make ends meet.
After his big break with Chivas he still had to struggle to win over coach Oscar Ruggeri and was briefly farmed back to Gallos.
But by 2003 he was a regular, owing to good positional sense and speed.
Then in 2005 he received a call-up to the national side and appeared in all of his side's four matches at the 2006 World Cup finals when Argentina - potential second round opponents again this time - beat the Mexicans in the last 16.
The previous year he also played a starring role in Mexico's run to the final of the Confederations Cup, scoring in the semis against Argentina.
"I like him as a player," says Mexico coach Javier Aguirre, though at 1m75 he is not the tallest defender around.
Salcido admits it his sometimes hard to comprehend how far he has come from such inauspicious beginnings.
"Everything has happened so fast. I had to adapt to many things. Overnight, I had money, a good job and was in the limelight."
After extending his PSV contract until 2012 he is now said to be the second-best Mexican player, though still some way off the reported 4.9 million euros a year earned by Barcelona veteran and fellow defender Rafael Marquez.
Now Salcido's experience will be a potentially key factor as they go up against Uruguay in their final group game either getting the win to ensure top spot or the draw that will bring on Diego Maradona's Argentinians in the next round.
With old stager Cuauhtemoc Blanco, he is a veteran, having now earned 69 caps.
In a week which has seen the French and even England lose their focus, Salcido says older heads need to keep things in perspective.
At the 2007 Gold Cup he went missing after a difference of opinion with the technical staff, who said he was unfit.
"Fame, success in Europe - it went to my head. I forgot my humble origins and let it affect my teammates and the team. The important thing at a World Cup is the team."
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