Italian icon inspires Honduran youngster
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AC Milan starlet Stephan El Shaarawy may not know it, but here at the Boys’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Nanjing he has a devoted fan in Catracho forward Paolo Belloni, who is eager to emulate the Italy forward’s meteoric rise to the top.

"[El Shaarawy] is the player I admire most, there’s no one else," the Genoa player told FIFA.com in a matter-of-fact tone.

Italian football buffs may have noticed that in addition to sharing similar looks and playing positions, there is another common denominator between Belloni and the 21-year-old striker known as ‘the Pharaoh’: Genoa’s youth team. El Shaarawy played with I Rossoblù for three years before being snapped up by Serie A giants AC Milan in 2011. With so many parallels between the two forwards, it’s easy to see why the Honduran youngster dreams of enjoying the same whirlwind success as his idol.

"He also comes from my club, which is obviously an important reason why I like him," said Belloni, before adding that he even got to meet his hero, albeit fleetingly. "Although he and I aren’t personally acquainted, he did return to the club to guide us in a training match that we played, so you could say I know him."

Great expectations
As the only overseas-based member of the Honduran Youth Olympic squad, Paolo Belloni has attracted his fair share of attention in Nanjing. Despite being only 15 years old, he has already been on Genoa’s books for four years and his family emigrated to Italy a year ago. Belloni started both of the Hondurans’ group games against Iceland and Peru and although the Central Americans lost both of them, he was a constant thorn in the side of his opponents. Despite not having found the net on the Olympic stage, the young striker remains assured of his ability.

"Apparently, El Shaarawy didn’t show too much exceptional talent as a child, but when he got to my age he suddenly started to blossom," Belloni said, referring to his hero’s Serie A debut against Chievo aged 16. "So I’m very confident about what the present and the future hold for me, I believe that I can be just like him."

With such farsighted ambition, losing a couple of football matches cannot take the shine off the Youth Olympics and Nanjing, where just about everything gets Paolo Belloni excited. "I’m very happy here," he beams. "We’re not only gaining competitive experience and taking in the atmosphere of the international arena, we’re also getting to know lots of new friends. Besides, Nanjing is really big, the city is nice and so are the people."

Even the tournament preparations were a cause for celebration for this optimistic youngster. "I was very happy to be called up to the national team. Returning to Honduras to prepare [for the YOFT] and going back to the beautiful scenery of my homeland — everything about it was wonderful," he said with a sparkle in his eyes.

When Honduras meet Vanuatu in the match for fifth place on Monday, Paolo Belloni will get one last chance to show off his silky skills. "Although we lost the previous two games, I believe that we’ll play to our full potential in the final game,” affirms the Honduran, who would love to cap a memorable experience with a goal or two. "I’m also confident that I’ll play well and I am sure that I’ll score," concluded the Catracho whiz kid with a note of determination.