The rising stars that make up Uruguay’s squad at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 find themselves on the verge of the biggest match of their fledgling careers to date. A gifted generation of players that will be remembered for, among other things, reaching the semi-final of a FIFA competition just a year after the nation’s senior side did the same at South Africa 2010, they have maintained Uruguayan football’s astonishing run of success in recent times.
But are the players even aware of these parallels? “Well, of course!” said Uruguayan striker Rodrigo Aguirre, taking some time out to speak to FIFA.com. “The other day the team was chatting about that: a year ago, we were watching the semi-final against the Netherlands on TV, and now we’re the ones just a game away from a World Cup final. It’s amazing to be fulfilling that type of dream at our age,” added the 16-year-old, one of four members of the squad who will turn 17 in October.
As if the stakes were not high enough, the opponents that the Charrúa teenagers will face in Guadalajara are none other than old rivals Brazil. “I’m glad that we’re playing them. Of course, you shouldn’t need any motivation in a semi-final, no matter who you’re playing, but the fact that it’s Brazil does make it a bit special,” explained the proud owner of Uruguay’s No11 shirt.
“On top of that, we’re pretty familiar with them. This year, we’ve already played them three times, with quite different results on each occasion: we drew 0-0 at the South American Championship; we scored four against them in Montevideo, and they put six past us in Rio de Janeiro. I’m not sure if you can read too much into those games, though. This one could also turn out pretty differently,” the rangy attacker continued.
Born in the aforementioned city of Montevideo, Aguirre started kicking a ball around his local neighbourhood at the age of 5, but it was not until he was twelve that the doors to a potential professional career opened up to him. “When Liverpool [of Montevideo’s] youth coach offered me a trial, it was an opportunity that I’d never expected. But now here I am – happy, excited and understandably a little nervous to be playing in such a massive game,” said the South American front man.
With his club, Aguirre fulfils the role of left winger. How, then, did he come to play as a forward for the national team? “It was Fabian [Coito, coach of Uruguay’s U-17 team] who moved me further up the pitch, and I feel pretty comfortable in that position. Truth be told, I’d love to keep playing up front,” he admitted candidly.
Asked to describe his all-round game, the left-footed young gun does not mince his words: “I know that I’m not the most technically gifted player out there, but I’ve been working hard to improve. My strengths are my heading and my energy, but I’ve also got a good shot on me in the box,” said the admirer of compatriot Luis Suarez. His other role model is Argentina’s Martin Palermo, whose “ability to be in the right place at the right time” is a skill Aguirre is keen to emulate.
He feels that his own style of play actually reflects that of the team. “We work hard as a unit, always helping each other out when we need to, never giving up and always putting in 100 per cent,” he explained.
Quizzed on Uruguay’s chances of going all the way, the young winger-cum-forward delivers another honest assessment: “We’ve experienced highs and lows, and although tiredness has set in, we’ve still put the maximum effort into every match so far. I’m not sure if the team could really give any more. Obviously, I’m hopeful that we can; I can still see us doing very well.”
The high-profile match will be followed closely back home, especially via social networks, where Uruguay’s performances have attracted a considerable amount of attention. Aguirre admits to being slightly surprised by this phenomenon, but hopes that fans of La Celeste will have plenty to comment about right up to the culmination of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“Our team has prepared for this for three years, and we know exactly what we’re capable of. We came here with the aim of having a successful tournament, and like every other team, with the dream of being crowned champions,” he said, before concluding, “Now we’re so close to making the final, and we’re going to do everything in our power to prevent that dream from slipping away.”