Colombia's defeat against Ghana in their final Group F game was clearly a painful experience, if the dejected faces of their players at full time were anything to go by. But more than the defeat itself, what disappointed the South Americans was their performance over the 90 minutes. That said, the 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Africans, who relegated Colombia to third in the group, did not prevent them progressing to the last 16. Indeed, as fate would have it, they ended us being paired with Nigeria in their Round-of-16 tie at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007, while Ghana were "rewarded" with none other than Brazil.
"We'd been playing well up until the Ghana game, so how come we lost, you might ask. Well, we lost because we need possession for our game to flow, and they denied us that. Luckily, that [slip-up] happened to us in the first round, and we hope there's no repeat against Nigeria," the Cafetero captain told FIFA.com.
In our conversation, Julio speaks with the same authority and conviction with which he leads his players on the pitch. "I told my team-mates that, now more than ever, we need to stick together. I also said we had what it takes to match Nigeria. And I'm not just saying that for the sake of it: I believe we can beat them."
Leading by example
Julio is one of five Colombia squad members born in 1991, which means coach Eduardo Lara believed in him sufficiently to make him captain at just 16. "Being asked by the boss to captain the team is as much a source of pride and honour as pulling on the jersey. I feel an extra responsibility, and I just hope I'm acquitting myself as I should be," he says in firm but measured tones.
Born on 21 February 1991 in Santa Marta, a picturesque city on the Caribbean coast, almost 1000km north of Bogota, Julio got where he is today on the back of hard work and sacrifice. "From the early days at the Sports Academy until now, I've had to work extremely diligently, which is why I'm really enjoying playing at this World Cup," he says.
Destiny has rewarded the midfielder for his efforts, Julio having already achieved one of his biggest ambitions - to wear the colours of his beloved Deportivo Independiente Medellin. "I've been a fan since I was a kid, so it's wonderful to play there," says the central midfielder, an ardent admirer of compatriot Leonel Alvarez and Italy's Gennaro Gattuso. "I identify with both their playing styles: I get up and down the pitch, play football in the right areas and score when I get the chance."
All or nothing againstNigeria
It is clear the player will have to bring all his ability to the fore if his side are to clip the wings of the Super Eaglets in their showdown. "They're strong and quick like Ghana but they're only human, just like us. What will we have to do to beat them? We'll need to apply ourselves, work hard and take our chances. The idea would be to score early and secure the result by keeping possession. We're ready for them," the player insists.
Julio scored in his side's Group F opener against Germany, when they came from 3-1 down to level the match at 3-3 and almost snatch a winner at the death. Recalling that achievement, the player says: "That game should serve as an inspiration to us. We came here looking to make the podium, but having seen how little there is between the sides at this level, and how the gap is closing, we feel we can aspire to winning the title. It will be difficult, though not impossible. The Nigeria game will tell us if we have what it takes to become champions."