Jesus Navas stepped up to the ball, ready to take Spain’s seventh penalty and the 14th of an epic shoot-out against Italy. With Azzurri defender Leonardo Bonucci having missed the previous effort, a successful spot-kick from the fleet-footed winger would send La Roja into the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013.
After a lightning run-up, Spain’s No22 dispatched a firm, low effort zipping into the corner of Gianluigi Buffon’s goal. As soon as the ball struck the back of the net, Navas charged to the touchline to celebrate, with his jubilant team-mates – who knew just how much it meant to the man from Los Palacios, Sevilla – in hot pursuit.
Confidence in the cause
Following the on-the-pitch celebrations and after passing briefly through the dressing room, a still visibly thrilled Navas spoke exclusively to FIFA.com. Happy to share his views, though also secure in the knowledge of a job well done, the 27-year-old looked to have come a long way from the shy youngster whose anxiety attacks had once endangered his career.
“I was really confident in myself and in the team,” said the wide-man, a recent signing for Manchester City, on the culmination of the decisive shoot-out. “At that moment, I didn’t let anything cross my mind because I was so certain what the objective was. And, fortunately, I managed to achieve it.”
Different indeed from a player who once said “Once it (an anxiety attack) happened to me for the first time, I was scared of it happening again”. Here stood Navas, confidence oozing from every word and gesture, as he told us that “we were mentally strong and that’s what made the difference”.
Following the dramatic semi-final, the livewire attacker’s first statement was a typically selfless one, stating that “I dedicate this result to my family and this tremendous generation of players”. And it is hardly surprising that his squad-mates also have only good things to say about Navas’ contribution to La Selección, both on and off the field.
“The confidence he showed in taking that penalty matches the confidence we all had in him,” said Fernando Torres. “After everything that he’s had to go through, he’s gone on to become a player who’s mentally very strong. I’m happy for him, he’s an important part of this generation of players and I’m glad that he’s the man of the hour,” added El Niño.
Another key member of La Roja, Gerard Pique, was equally effusive, though the Barcelona defender’s verdict was more specific to Navas’ contribution in victory over La Nazionale. “It was really emotional. It’s an honour to have him in the team, because he’s a player who always offers you something a bit different,” he said. “Today he did just that thanks to his speed and his ability in one-on-one situations. He created a lot of chances for us.”
And so, off went Navas on his way, first to speak to the press waiting in the stadium’s mixed zone and then to celebrate with his team-mates. With Spain surely on a high after coming through a fiercely tough test, Brazil now await in the Estadio do Maracana on 30 June.