Neri Cardozo has a way of moving that is so quiet and effortless it's almost imperceptible, and it is no different whether he is on or off the pitch. However, the same can not be said of his impact. Shy and unassuming he may be away from the action, but once he crosses that white line he becomes a veritable force.
This was again evident during Wednesday's semi-final against Etoile du Sahel, when Cardozo scored the goal that sent the Xeneizes through to Sunday's grand final. In spite of all the attention that followed his semi-final heroics, the youngster still found time for a brief chat with FIFA.com about his experiences thus far in Japan and his hopes for the final.
"It's so nice what's been happening to me, but it's hard to explain," says the player who, despite being just 21, has already participated in two FIFA U-20 World Cups. "It was my first ever game in Japan, so I'm very happy. When you score the goal that wins a game for your side and sends them through to a final, you cannot ask for much more."
The decisive move Cardozo is referring to came 37 minutes into
the first half. "I ran into the space where I expected
Rodrigo's (Palacio) pass to be delivered to. When I received
the ball, I honestly didn't even think about where I'd try
to hit it. I just shut my eyes and let fly. That's the truth. I
thought, 'where it goes, it goes'," the player
recounts with a laugh.
Regardless of the manner of scoring, the midfielder says it was the "most important goal" of his career, before adding: "I haven't played much recently because of an injury, so this goal will give me tons of confidence for what lies ahead."
The first international goal of Neri's club career was followed by a very peculiar celebration. First he had to withstand the mountain of players that threatened to bury him in the turf of Tokyo's National Stadium, then, with his hands behind his ears he imitated El Topo Gigio (a puppet mouse popular on Argentinian TV in the 1980s). And what was the reason for that? "I celebrated that way for Roman (Riquelme), who was in Tokyo but unable to take part. He came up to me before the game to wish me luck and told me to play as I knew how," reveals Neri.
And that was not his only contact with the club's influential playmaker. "After the game, he returned to congratulate me for the goal and thank me for dedicating it to him. He's very important to us, not just as a player but also as a team-mate and a friend. His presence gave us all a big lift."
Now with the Etoile game behind him, Cardozo is looking forward to playing in another final. However, he is not taking for granted that Boca's opponents will be AC Milan: "We'll have to wait and see if they win. Urawa are a very pacy side, who have good players and the benefit of home support to help them raise their game. Nothing is decided yet. The good thing is though that we're safely through and can now relax and wait."
"As he got ready to face all the Argentinian and local
media, Boca's unsung hero revealed he was enjoying his Japanese
experience. "I haven't been able to see much so far, but
what I have taken in is very nice. I took advantage of the time to
buy a couple of things for my mum and girlfriend, while this
(points to the jersey in his hand) is for my father."
Before heading off, Neri reveals his aim for the final, saying: "We have to win on Sunday, no matter what." With another performance like today's from the young midfielder, you would bet against it...