Many experts will tell you that goalkeepers get better with age, and there have certainly been plenty of examples in the modern game. Italian legend Dino Zoff led Italy to FIFA World Cup™ glory at the age of 40, while the Brazilian Clemer was only two years younger when he helped Internacional de Porto Alegre lift the FIFA Club World Cup in 2006.
Today, almost two years on from that memorable victory, the baton has passed to Ecuador's Jose Cevallos, who heads to Japan next month with Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito at the ripe young age of 37. The man who kept goal for his national team at Korea/Japan 2002 has a wealth of experience, having played four times in the Copa America and helped his club side to Copa Libertadores glory this year with his penalty shoot-out heroics. Now, as he looks forward to next month's return to the Land of the Rising Sun, the hugely popular shot-stopper spoke exclusively to FIFA.com, saying: "We're just two games away from glory."
The long road to victory
Pepe Pancho, as the player is fondly known in his homeland, will forever be thankful he joined Liga de Quito for the 2008 season. Prior to his Copa Libertadores' triumph this year, the keeper had twice before tasted defeat in the final with fellow Ecuadorians Barcelona de Guayaquil, the team he made his top flight debut with in 1990 and spent most of the next 15 years. Cevallos' Libertadores victory last July, the first for a team from his country, was all the sweeter after his having considered calling time on his playing career not long before.
"You always set yourself goals. First it was to turn professional, later to win the national league, then it was to represent my country and play in a World Cup. And I achieved all of these. This year, my objective was to become South American champion, and I did that too," the keeper says with an air of satisfaction. "It feels a little strange perhaps not to have done it Barcelona, but I owe everything to this club and its fans, who have treated me so well," he adds.
Cevallos played a vital role in Los Albos' continental conquest, with star turns in the club's penalty shoot-out wins over San Lorenzo de Almagro in the quarter-finals and Fluminense in the second leg of the final at the Maracana. For all his experience, however, he admits that his debut appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup will have him feeling like a novice again: "There's always some nervousness and tension, that feeling of butterflies in your stomach before a big match. Those sensations will be magnified in Japan given the kind of games we'll be playing there."
On the subject of Japan, Pepe is well qualified to speak about the country, having been there for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the Kirin Cup and several other friendlies. "It's an impressive country in which organisation, discipline and punctuality really stand out. After the [Second World] War, they were in very bad shape but they started again and are now a world power. That tells you a lot about them," says the player. "Hopefully when we're there we can consolidate the growth of Ecuadorian football at all levels. We're just two games away from glory," he adds.
With his tremendous experience, Cevallos has few rivals when it comes to handling pressurised situations, and he is not averse to using a trick or two when called for. "You never want to fight with your rivals, but we'll see if at some stage we need to run down the clock or something like that. There are some legitimate tactics you can use," he says with a grin.
Naturally, it will be far from easy to deal with the likes of Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo or Carlos Tevez, should the teams meet in the final. "They are really impressive footballers, but don't forget Ronaldo missed a penalty in the final of the Champions League. At moments like these, everything can hinge on one player's decision. Hopefully we won't have to face that kind of scenario and we'll win our games in regulation time instead," Cevallos says.
Will he have any other tricks up his sleeve if does find himself in a penalty shoot-out? "Well I won't have any bits of paper tucked away [with a list of who aims where] like [Jens] Lehmann had at the World Cup," he explains with a laugh. "All that matters is that we win, with or without penalties, both for ourselves and for Ecuador."