On Wednesday 14 December, Atletico Nacional open their campaign at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 by taking on Kashima Antlers at Osaka’s Suita City Football Stadium. The match is drawing nearer, and Colombian defender Felipe Aguilar is experiencing a range of emotions. “There’s apprehension and anxiety, but also a lot of desire, excitement and anticipation,” he told FIFA.com.

Atletico’s coach, Reinaldo Rueda, has already spoken to his team at length about their Japanese opponents. The J.League champions are a strong side who have already knocked out Auckland City and Mamelodi Sundowns. Ever the keen learner, Aguilar has clearly taken note of his manager’s instructions. “They’re a team who play with a lot of intensity, they’re well organised, strong on the counter-attack, and they’ll give us a very physical game,” he explained. “They play a clearly-defined 4-4-2 formation, pressing in lines, and they recover their defensive shape very well.”

Standing 1.91 metres tall, the willowy defender has also taken on board the tools El Verdolaga will need if they are to prevail against their Japanese opponents. “We have to take the intensity out of the game, keep our concentration and deny them possession,” he said. “If we attack them down the flanks, we can make life difficult for them.”

Although only 23 years of age, Aguilar is no longer a future prospect. After coming through the ranks at Atletico Nacional he spent three years at Alianza Petrolera before returning to El Verde de la Montaña an accomplished professional, just in time to enjoy one of the most memorable years in the club’s history. Despite his tender age, Aguilar successfully stepped into the void left by the departure of defensive stalwart Oscar Murillo for Pachuca in Mexico.

Aguilar made use of those three years away from Atletico Nacional by doing more than just polishing his technique, improving his aerial game and developing his ability to shut out opponents. “I’ve been studying business for the last three years,” he revealed, explaining that he took an exam immediately prior to joining up with his team-mates and travelling to Japan. “I passed!” he smiled proudly.

It is somewhat unusual for a top level player to dedicate his time to studies, but Aguilar is very clear on the matter. “A footballer’s career is short, and you have to prepare yourself for what comes next, to look for something else to do with your life,” he explained. “I’d like to be an executive, so that’s what I’m preparing myself for.”

That said, it would be wrong to think that the youngster – who has already won the South American U-20 Championship and played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 – has no ambitions left to fulfil as a footballer. There is still a lot more to come from this Copa Libertadores 2016 winner. What’s more, Aguilar is looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead. “In football, my dream is to carry on making history with Atletico Nacional, then to maybe play in Europe and in a World Cup with the national team,” he outlined.

For the moment, he is representing Colombia at a different FIFA competition, this time at club level. “I can’t wait to get out there and compete,” confirmed Aguilar, who is also clear as to his main goal: “We’re all dreaming about reaching the final,” he said.

Once there, Aguilar has another ambition. “Sergio Ramos is my hero. I really like his style, and always watch him play. It would be really something to be able to see him up close in the final."