“I used to get up early to watch the games between [South] America and Europe,” said Atletico Nacional forward Orlando Berrio. “I used to dream of being there.” This coming December, that dream will come true for Berrio, though instead of a one-off match between the champions of South America and Europe, he will be appearing in a competition that now features the champions of the six confederations and the host nation’s domestic league.
The essence is still the same, however: the setting is Japan and the purpose of the exercise is to crown the best team in the world. And this year, Berrio will not have to dream or rise early in the morning to see it all unfold. He will be there, experiencing it at first hand.
“I’m living a dream,” he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “And I’m preparing for it as well as I can, so that I can rise to the challenge, like I always do.”
The powerful 25-year-old frontman has been playing his part in one of the most glorious chapters in the history of Atletico Nacional, the club where he learned his trade and made his professional debut in 2009.
Following spells on loan with Millonarios and Patriotas, Berrio returned to El Verde de la Montaña in 2013 and promptly began building a reputation for himself as a goalscorer. In doing so, he honed his skills as a player and matured as a person. “I understand football more now,” he explained. “Before it was just fun for me, but now it’s a responsibility. I understand the dedication and the discipline that you need to have to succeed in the sport.”
Berrio is now an inspiration to the club’s youngsters, an example for these future generations to follow in their professional careers. “To come up through the youth ranks and then win the Copa Libertadores is something you dream about,” he said in reference to Atletico’s historic triumph at the end of July. “It’s something I’d wanted since I was young, and to actually go and do it is so exciting. You can’t put it into words.”
2016 will always be a year for Berrio to remember, a year in which he won the Colombian Superliga to go with the Libertadores title, made his debut for his country, and in which he is also fighting for further glory in the Copa Sudamericana.
The icing on the cake could come in December on a Japanese pitch that he has seen so many times on television at unearthly hours. “I don’t know Japan, but I’m fascinated by its culture. It’s different and interesting,” he said, looking ahead to his upcoming trip. “I’m going there to play football first and foremost, though. If I have any time left over to discover more about the culture, then that would be great.”
Berrio is expecting large crowds and plenty of excitement when he gets there, not to mention a major challenge in which Atletico will need to be at their best if they are to check into the final on 18 December. Contemplating that goal, he believes coach Reinaldo Rueda has the talent and experience to ensure that the good times will keep rolling for the Colombians: “He prepares games in depth. He built on the progress we’d made and, drawing on his knowledge of the team, he got us playing the kind of football he wanted. He’s combined both things and it’s been paying off for us.”
Atletico Nacional will play their opening game of the competition in Osaka on Wednesday 14 December against the winners of the quarter-final tie between Mamelodi Sundowns and the side that wins through from the play-off for the quarter-finals between the J-League champions and Auckland City FC.
“Atletico Nacional is the biggest club in Colombia,” added Berrio. “It’s an honour to wear this shirt, and a big responsibility too. But I use that as motivation to do justice to the history of the club. And I do that with goals because that’s what us strikers live on.”