Get any group of 16- or 17-year-olds together for any length of time and you can expect plenty of high jinks, and football teams are no different. However, when the youngsters in question are on national-team duty ahead of a FIFA competition, that youthful exuberance needs to be tempered with a healthy dose of commitment and determination to succeed.
At least that is the opinion of 17-year-old striker Lucas Piazon, currently at Sao Paulo but with a pre-contract agreement signed with Chelsea, who is one of the highest-profile names on Brazil’s preliminary squad list for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011. Fully aware that the media and fans alike expect vibrant, spectacular football from A Seleção at every age level, Lucas insists that coach Emerson Avila’s charges need to aim higher still in the tournament which runs from 18 June to 10 July.
“First of all we’ll be trying to make a good impression and play our best football, so everyone knows who we are,” Piazon told FIFA.com. “But if we find ourselves in the running for the title, we may have to worry a little less about making a good impression.”
Indeed, the rising starlet revealed that the very same issue was already discussed by the Brazil squad during victory at this year’s South American U-17 Championship in Ecuador. “We spoke about this,” said Piazon. “We said that perhaps we don’t always need to play such jogo bonito [the beautiful game], that we can still take the title without it. It’s ok to win 1-0 instead of 4-3.”
Back at Ecuador 2011, Brazil got their campaign off to a shaky start before finding their form in the six-team final round, where they won four of their five matches. What's more, Piazon and Co achieved all manner of victories, from 3-1 triumphs over Ecuador and Paraguay, to a 3-2 thriller against Argentina and a 1-0 success against Colombia.
Part of a heavily revamped squad under coach Avila, who has the complete faith of Brazil’s new youth national-team coordinator Ney Franco, Piazon gave his verdict on the team’s strong finish to the Sudamericano. “There were a lot of new lads there, because the whole set-up changed.
“Some different players were brought in who we weren’t used to playing with, and we suffered for that in the early games. But in the final round everything clicked into place,” continued Piazon, speaking from the experience of two U-17 Sudamericanos and a host of international friendlies. Moreover, the player has also played against teams from other countries for Sao Paulo, who he joined from Curitiba in 2008 at the age of 14.
Given coach Avila’s decision to provisionally select 15 members of that 20-man squad that triumphed in Ecuador, there is unlikely to be a repeat of the problems that marred the start of the Sudamericano, where the team struggled to gel. According to Piazon, the class of Ecuador 2011 have been in continous contact since, particularly via social networking sites, which should ensure a positive atmosphere once the players kick off the final phase of FIFA U-17 World Cup preparations this week in Teresopolis.
“We’ve got two-and-a-bit weeks of training ahead of us now,” explains the Chelsea-bound man. “Sometimes players can start moaning when you’re stuck together for a very long time, and might want it to be over quickly. But once it’s finished, you end up missing it.”
Drawn in a tough-looking Group F alongside Australia, Denmark and Côte d’Ivoire, Piazon feels a healthy respect for their opponents and the intelligence to play to their own strengths should see Brazil through. “The first phase is going to be tough because we’ll meet Denmark, who I've heard are very strong opponents, and an African side.
“So, if we’re able to qualify for the next round it’ll give us a huge confidence boost,” continues Piazon. “We’ll try not to get drawn into a physical battle. There’s no point us simply knocking balls into the box. We’ve got to keep the ball on the floor, exchange passes and create gaps.”
And this is precisely the kind of football that Mexican fans will be hoping to see during A Seleção’s group matches in Guadalajara and Queretaro. It is also the style of play that suits Piazon – a player who enjoys working the channels and is blessed with speed, touch and the ability to finish clinically even at full pace. Allied to the considerable maturity and pragmatism shown when speaking to FIFA.com, Piazon is clearly one to watch come Mexico 2011.