Jeffrey Sarpong: The knack of scoring vital goals
Jeffrey Sarpong is a quiet type of guy, but as soon as he steps onto a football field he is in his element.
The youngster really does not appreciate the sort of frenzy that he was besieged with six months ago when his injury-time winner in the 3-2 defeat of Germany in the final European Championship qualifier booked his team's passage to the finals in Italy, where they finished runners-up. That second placed finish guaranteed the Oranje a place at their very first FIFA U-17 World Championship. The celebrations after the game too were a little frenetic for the reserved Ajax player. In fact the hero of the hour left the dressing room quietly and found a seat at the back of the empty team coach to spent some time alone and savour the sweet taste of success.
"It really is difficult to believe that the goal against Germany is the reason we are at this tournament. The team is really happy to have come this far", the 17-year-old told FIFA.com.
In a thrilling quarter-final encounter with the USA at Peru 2005, Sarpong found the net twice and sent the Netherlands through to the final four. "We played well against the USA. We started slowly but we improved as the game progressed", says the talented midfield player. With obvious delight he goes on to describe his superb second goal: "I received a really nice ball out of midfield, controlled it with the side of my foot and made my run down the left wing. It was a nice goal to score."
Recuperating before the semi-final clash
The attacking midfield player is using the next few days to relax before Thursday's semi-final against Mexico in Chiclayo. He is really looking forward to the game and eager to get out there. "It is wonderful to have reached the semi-finals of the World Championship. I've already played against Mexico. We won that game 4-2, but I think they will make it more difficult for us this time."
He rates this Netherlands team highly: "We've clearly improved in recent months and have, as a result of the European Championship, become real team players. We're taking each game as it comes, but I believe that we are capable of reaching the Final."
On the strengths of the Netherlands, Sarpong says: "Our team is finely balanced. Our midfield is strong. Vurnon Anita, Ruud Vormer and myself agree that communication during a game is vital. It helps that we've played together for two years and know each other well. We've a good selection of talented players in our attack and a goalkeeper who knows how to organise his defence." And what about his own game? "I'm not one of those players who studies opponents in depth. I tend to concentrate on the finer points of my own game."
This tournament has given the reserved young Oranje an opportunity to mix with players from other teams. "I've spoken with players from the Australian team. One of them plays with me at Ajax. I also had a chat with Kyle Nakazawa, another ex-Ajax man. When we're in the same hotel as the other teams, we always get on really well."
Sarpong first kicked a ball at the tender age of six. His first club was Abcoude in Amsterdam but one year later he had moved to Ajax. "This is my tenth season at Ajax", says Sarpong. "I know that I still have a lot to learn but the best way is to take it one step at a time. Then you've just got to wait and see what happens. I will be staying at Ajax for the foreseeable future. My family and friends live in Amsterdam, and I go to school there. I believe it's best if I stay put for a while."
A passion for the English game
Sarpong claims he has no favourite players, but Kaka or Jay-Jay Okocha always keep him glued to the TV screen. "My favourite club is Arsenal. I love the English game because it's so fast and direct. But I also like to watch Barcelona play." In his spare time, the U-17 player enjoys watching tennis or basketball on TV, reading the Bible or listening to Gospel music. "I also spend a lot of time with my friends." But even in his spare time, he finds it hard to get away from football. "I once planned to go swimming with a few friends of mine, but we happened to find a football pitch on the way and ended up playing football."
His immediate goal is clear: "I would like to be a first-team player, but I am not going to put myself under undue pressure. Sometimes it can happen over night. You can be sure of nothing in football. I hope I can get there as soon as possible, but I don't want to rise too fast, because once I've arrived I want to remain a first-team regular."
Blasting the ball into the back of the net in the semi-final against Mexico would certainly help his cause!