There were those who questioned Juan Sebastian Veron’s decision to return to his beloved Estudiantes in 2006, thus eschewing more lucrative offers from Italy and England, as well as Buenos Aires heavyweights Boca Juniors and River Plate. Yet such has been La Brujita’s run of success since leaving the Old Continent, culminating in the FIFA Club World Cup final against Barcelona, that the doubters have been well and truly silenced.
The fairy tale return got off to a perfect start in Veron’s first campaign back at Los Pincharratas, whose late run took them level with Boca after the final round of matches in the Apertura 2006 before they downed Los Xeneizes – another of Veron’s ex-clubs – in a play-off. The former Lazio icon's midfield wizardry subsequently played a huge part in Estudiantes's charge to the final of the Copa Sudamericana 2008, which they lost narrowly to Internacional, before Veron and Co beat another Brazilian side, Cruzeiro, to lift the Copa Libertadores trophy eight months later.
“There are so many thoughts running through my mind,” said Veron when quizzed by FIFA.com on his feelings before Saturday’s tournament decider. “At the moment though, more than anything I think we should be really pleased because given the resources we’ve got, with many players like me who’ve played in the second division, to reach the world final is like a dream.
"A few years ago, I doubt any of us would have imagined what’d be happening now,” said the Albirroja No11, whose first season at Estudiantes back in 1994 ended in relegation, before he helped the club bounce straight back into the top flight. "I’m not nervous at the moment, but I’m sure that’ll change as kick-off approaches. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things, but we must all try and channel our desire to get out there and play into something positive so we don’t lose our focus.”
Veron feels this focus will prove vital against a star-studded Barça. “It’s hard to analyse a final like this against a team as well known as Barcelona," he said. "But I think it’ll be the simple things that’ll count: we’ve got to try and restrict their opportunities and take full advantage of the ones we create.”
“I felt that our first match was the trickiest because everyone had us pegged as favourites, but the team rose to the challenge,” continued the Argentina international of the 2-1 semi-final win over Pohang Steelers. “Now the situation’s changed, because anything can happen now that it’s come down to 90 minutes between the two best teams in the world. Of course it’s going to very difficult, but that’s because of how strong our opponents are, not because of it being the final.”
“This team has already earned its place in history, both for the club and for ourselves. We’re now going for glory, but it’s going to be incredibly tough. We’ll see if we have what it takes to go all the way.”