Federico Vilar’s rise to prominence is testament to his grit and tenacity. Faced with a lack of opportunities in his native Argentina, the keeper decided to try his luck in Mexico, where yet more obstacles were to cross his path. Yet, in his determination to succeed at the highest level, Vilar made a name for himself in the country’s lower leagues before earning his big break with Atlante at the end of 2003.
The Argentinian shot-stopper, who wears the No3 jersey in tribute to his father, a defender by trade, has built his reputation on the back of lightning reflexes and superb positioning. Add to that his ability to convert free-kicks - Vilar has scored several goals in the league and continental competitions - and it is not hard to understand his burgeoning reputation.
Six years on from his debut appearance with the Iron Colts, Vilar has established himself as a symbolic figure at the club and one of the best keepers in Latin America. And having helped his side to a Mexican league championship and the CONCACAF Champions League title, the Atlante captain is now gearing up for the challenge of the FIFA World Club Cup UAE 2009.
Vilar broke off from his side’s continuing preparations for the big event to speak exclusively to FIFA.com about their chances at a competition he is thoroughly looking forward to. “It’s a historic moment for the club and every one of its players,” he explains. “We’ll be trying to make the most of it.”
Two years on from Atlante’s 2007 Apertura title triumph, the starting point on their journey to Abu Dhabi, Vilar is the first to accept that the Iron Colts are not performing to the same standard at the moment. “Our objectives, desire and ambition to play the game our way remain the same though,” he says in mitigation.
The Mexican challengers had a useful dry run for UAE 2009 when they lost to Aston Villa and beat Malaga at the Peace Cup in the summer. “Playing Spanish and English opposition gave us the chance to see that we have things to offer and that if we execute our gameplan we can win matches,” explains the No3.
That experience should come in handy when they take on the likes of Barcelona and Estudiantes, two sides the Mexicans know well. As Vilar acknowledges, however, their other rivals are more of an unknown quantity. “We’ve watched a few clips on the internet of Pohang Steelers recently and you can see they are a pacy team who like to play an attacking game. I haven’t seen so much of Mazembe but we know how physically strong they are.”
The task facing Atlante in the Middle East is a difficult one. Bar the inaugural competition, where two Brazilian sides contested the final, the showpiece match of the FIFA Club World Cup has always involved a showdown between European and South American opposition.
The question is, can Vilar and Co break that pattern? “We have every confidence in our ability and we feel we can have a good tournament,” comes the reply. “And for us that means getting to the final. We’ve got a few days left to prepare and we need to be in the best possible shape if we’re going to achieve our goals. We’re not setting any limits for ourselves. We want to do the best we can.”
An all Azulgrana-duel?
Atlante failed to make the season-ending eight-team play-off in the Mexican league and have been out of action since 14 November. On the positive side their failure to extend their league season has given them a whole month to prepare for the big event.
“It might not help us in terms of rhythm because it would have been good to keep playing competitive football,” says Vilar, weighing up the pros and cons of their elimination. “All the same, it’s a chance for us to reset our objectives and to gear up for what is a new competition for us.”
Atlante, who run out in a similar scarlet and blue kit to Barcelona, have been pitched into the same half of the draw as the European champions. And in order to meet their fellow Azulgranas they will first have to dispose of the winners of the meeting between Al Ahli and Auckland City.
“To my mind Barcelona are the best team in the world today and it would be fantastic to be able to take them on,” comments Vilar. “Estudiantes have also achieved big things on a continental level, though, and they know what they want out on the pitch. If we get past the first round, we’ll have the opportunity to play them and that will be good news for us.”
Called up to international duty for the first time in 2009, the Argentinian keeper has had a largely successful year and is hoping that a string of good performances in Abu Dhabi might clinch him a place in Diego Maradona’s squad for South Africa 2010. “It’s a dream I still have, but for it to come true I have to keep performing well. This is the biggest club competition there is and the whole football world will be watching. It’s a showcase and I feel I have to make the most of it.”
Nevertheless, for a team man like Vilar, personal goals take second place behind collective ones. “I always put the team first,” he explains. “That’s the way I see the game. The only way to succeed is by doing things well as a team and reaching objectives. Every player needs to apply their skills for the team as a whole and the better everyone performs, the better it is for Atlante.”