Walter Centeno: Three years work has made us strong
There will be no point in looking for a shirt with the name Centeno on it during this week's FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005, because you will not find one. What you will see, though, is a Saprissa No. 8 jersey with the word "Pate" across the back, a name given to the young Walter by his father that later became his footballing moniker.
Regardless of the name on the shirt, there is no mistaking Centeno on the ball. Experience and maturity set the creative midfielder apart, as do the wonderful vision and ball control he has developed over 12 years in top flight football with Belén, Goicoechea, AEK Athens (Greece) and Deportivo Saprissa.
Not many Tico players get the chance to play overseas, so when Walter's opportunity knocked he took full advantage. "Without a doubt my time in Athens helped me mature both as an individual and a player. It was a very good experience, and I learned important lessons like the value of family and other things you take for granted when you're in your own country," he says.
After returning to Costa Rica, Centeno made his presence felt at Deportivo Saprissa, winning the award for best player in the Costa Rican league in the 2003/04 season. One year later he helped the "Purple Monster" lift the CONCACAF Champions Cup, a memory the player still cherishes. "The moment we hoisted the cup will always stay with me. Both legs of the final were also memorable. I believe that it was the first leg that set us up for victory, as we did what was asked of us (winning 2-0). With the pressure then off us, the trip to Mexico (to face UNAM Pumas) was much less fraught. The team played more freely there and were able to handle the pressure with relative ease," Pate tells FIFA.com.
Now as CONCACAF representatives, his side face their next challenge: the FIFA Club World Championship. "The new tournament format is very interesting. Allowing all the continents to be represented is a really positive thing," remarks Centeno, one of the best-known names in Costa Rican football.
Concentration and technique
Saprissa's first opponent in Japan will be Sydney FC. The coach of the Tico outfit Hernán Medford has already warned his players that the Australian side will be physically stronger, and that his side will need to control the ball and show better technique to counter this. After watching several videos of their opponents, Centeno noticed another facet of Sydney's play. "They have a lot of big strong players who could be dangerous in the air," he said. "We'll have to be very careful with set pieces, which are an important part of their play. We're not the biggest side, but our defenders will know how to deal with aerial threats.
"The team is already mentally prepared for our first game, which is of vital importance. We can't wait for the match to kick off. I have the utmost confidence in my team-mates, and we'll be doing everything possible to win the title.
"This same squad have been working together for three years. Our ideas haven't changed and our goals are clear. All of that has made us strong," says Centeno, who nevertheless denies that Saprissa are favourites to go through, saying: "That's something we have to demonstrate out on the pitch."
Expectation among Saprissa fans is enormous, which is why the players believe they need to go into the game with the conviction they can win. "For us this is a big responsibility as we're not only defending the honour of our club, but also that of Costa Rican football, Central America and CONCACAF," explains the player who has scored 15 times in 90 appearances for his country.
"We're privileged to have been invited to this party and will be trying to make the most of the opportunity. We've come with the intention of achieving great things, but to do that we need to be mentally prepared and remain focused throughout every game."