With half-time approaching in Argentina's last match against Honduras, the South Americans were desperately struggling to find their rhythm. Without having excelled themselves, the Catrachos were a goal to the good against their clearly nervous-looking opponents. That was until a ball fell at the feet of Argentina's inspirational captain Fernando Meza.

"If I remember correctly, it was a long ball into the middle of their area. Their keeper came out a long way to try and clear it but the ball went loose. A defender then half cleared it and it fell to me. I took one touch, saw there were too many bodies to try and hit it straight and so decided to shape it with the inside of my foot - just as our coach had been asking us to do in training. When I saw it fly over the defender's head and into the corner, I screamed with joy," Meza tells FIFA.com.

Back on level terms, Argentina settled down and began to play neat and at times eye-catching football, eventually seeing off the Hondurans 4-1. The three points virtually assured them a place in the last 16 of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 and gave them the chance to take top spot in Group C when they face Spain in Gwangyan on Saturday.

Coach Miguel Tojo speaks very highly of his captain: "He's a solid defender who's very good at anticipating danger. He's also very good in the air whether in his own area or that of opponents."

The coach could probably have added Meza is a decent goal-scorer too.

"Me a goalscorer? No, I score the odd header, but that's not what I'm in the team for. However, I'd like to dedicate that one to my little sister Agustina, who turned seven on the day of the game. The jersey is for her," the 17-year-old says with a broad smile. A native of San Martin in the province of Buenos Aires, Meza netted his fourth goal in Argentina's colours with that memorable strike last Wednesday.

"That said, I was even more delighted because of what the goal meant to the team. It was vital in helping us turn around a game in which we were really struggling. We always have difficulty with teams that get men behind the ball. What positives did I take from the Honduras match? Well, for a start, we got back among the goals. And secondly, we finally managed to find our game."

Aiming for top spot
Meza believes that against Spain, Argentina will raise their game to the level they attained in the second half against Honduras. "I've seen a bit of Spain and they're a good side, though I wasn't dazzled or anything. For us they're ideal opponents, because they'll come at us, which in turn will give us the space to play our game. Having said that, first and foremost we need to concern ourselves with how we play."

The central defender, currently plying his trade with the youth team at San Lorenzo where he hopes one day to play first-team football, is not adverse to a little self-criticism either. "We may be on the right road, but there are still things we need to improve. We haven't yet played to the best of our ability."

Almost as precise with his words as he is in his defensive duties, Meza explains what it means to skipper his beloved Albiceleste: "I'm tremendously proud to wear the captain's armband. I'm responsible for the team when it's out there on the pitch. Just to think that it's a position the likes of (Diego) Maradona, (Diego) Simeone and (Roberto) Ayala have all held is an incredible feeling."

As it happens, Ayala is the player he tries to model himself on. "Hopefully, one day I'll have the same character and love of the jersey as he has. And if I can head as well as he does, then all the better!" he says with a laugh. Though still a very slight player, on the evidence to date his 1.72 metres and 67 kilos have not held him back at all.

Time is up and Fernando reluctantly prepares to head back to his room, though the affable youngster would gladly talk football all evening. To our last question about his dream for Korea 2007, he replies simply: "I know it's not very original, but I just want to be world champion."