Every successful team has its stars, charismatic ball-players who attract the spotlight on and off the field of play. Supporting them, however, are usually a group of equally talented players who go about their work with a minimum amount of fuss, content to let others take the plaudits. But even unsung heroes deserve a little recognition and acclaim from time to time.
A case in point is Spain's all-purpose midfielder Iago, who
over the course of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 has earned
the complete faith of coach Juan Santisteban. A permanent fixture
in Korea to date, starting four of his side's games and coming
off the bench in the other two, Iago has made some vital
contributions in Spain's relentless march to the final.
In the Round of 16 tie against Korea DPR, the Barça boy came on after 66 minutes and popped up on the right 38 seconds later to score his side's third goal in a 3-0 win. And after starting Wednesday's epic semi-final against Ghana on the right flank, he outfoxed the African defence by appearing on the left and crossing for Dani Aquino to fire home the opener.
Slowly but surely
"My natural position is playmaker, and I feel more comfortable in the middle, just behind the centre-forward," Spain's Mr Versatile tells FIFA.com. "But if the boss asks me to go on the wing, then that's where I'll go. The most important thing is to play and that the team wins. What's more, we don't really have any set positions and we're more or less free to go where we want. So if the chance comes up, I'll drift around a little, like I did against Ghana."
As Iago explains, the player he tries to model himself on is none other than former Barcelona legend Rivaldo. "He's got the lot: a fierce shot, he's good in the air and he scores goals... he's the most complete player I've ever seen." Describing himself as naturally left-footed and a devotee of South American football, Iago also likens his style of play to Argentinian livewire Pablo Aimar. "I play in a similar way to him, always looking to attack at every moment."
Born in Vigo in January 1990, Iago joined the Barcelona youth set-up as a ten-year-old. And seven years on, he has now graduated to the club's reserve side, Barcelona B. "Obviously I'd love to play at the Camp Nou, but I'm in no rush. I know there are some great players ahead of me, but Barça is committed to its youngsters too. Right now, though, all I'm thinking about is Nigeria."
Ninety minutes from glory
With Sunday edging ever closer, the conversation turns to the duel with the Golden Eaglets. "It won't be much different to the Ghana game," he predicts. "It'll be hard-fought and they'll be trying to press us all the time. They've got a lot of technique and their full-backs like to attack, which will make it difficult for ours to get forward.
"Getting possession is vital and we can't afford to sit back, because if we do that, they'll make their physical strength count. Obviously, going to extra time twice has taken it out of us, but it's been great to have an extra day's rest."
Inevitably, the absence of Bojan also comes up in discussion,
although Iago is confident Spain can overcome that particular
obstacle. "He's going to be missed for sure, but I
don't think we'll be changing our tactics. We've got
the players to replace him, like Dani Aquino, who's having a
And as he also explains, the win over Ghana has also boosted Spanish morale. "We didn't play well, but that makes our achievement even more impressive. Winning without playing well has given us confidence, and mentally we're on a high."
Mindful that the final of a FIFA competition does not come around every day, Iago admits that with expectations rising back home, the pressure is starting to mount. "We know what's at stake against Nigeria. We're 90 minutes away from glory," he says, seemingly ready for the challenge ahead.