Jonathan Cubero needed all his nerve and composure as he emerged from the dressing room before Sunday’s final against the host nation at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011. Taking to the field at the imposing Estadio Azteca, the Uruguay goalkeeper was greeted by a wall of noise created by nearly 100,000 fans, all of them anxious to see their young heroes crowned world champions and willing him to make a mistake.
“It’s tough to stay calm when you’ve got so many people against you,” he told FIFA.com. “You manage to get a hold on your nerves during the warm-up though, and you get used to all the things they’re shouting at you from the stands. You put it all to one side and you just focus on your game.”
And when his ordeal was over two hours later, Cubero’s disappointment at coming off second best to Mexico was tempered by the fact that he had won the adidas Golden Glove as the competition’s leading goalkeeper. “When all’s said and done, it’s a great feeling to win an award, especially when it comes at the World Cup,” said the composed keeper, clutching the aforementioned trophy securely in his right hand.
A safe pair of hands
Cubero was powerless to prevent Mexico’s two goals on the day. The first of them came when El Tri captain Antonio Briseno side-footed home from close range after 31 minutes, and the second when Giovani Casillas completed a textbook counter-attack by firing the ball past the Uruguay custodian with normal time already completed.
Despite it all, Cubero had still conceded only five goals in seven games, fewer than any other keeper, and kept four clean sheets in the process, including the quarter-final tie with Uzbekistan and the semi-final with Brazil.
“That was all down to my team-mates, who kept faith in me all the way through,” he said. “Our defence is one of our strongest assets. We have a very solid foundation and thanks to God our opponents were unable to score more goals against us. We’re a team with a very strong bond, good players and good individual skills, and obviously we’ve got that typical Uruguayan grit and determination. We give it everything in every game.”
Sunday’s final was played out in front of a capacity crowd at the Azteca, with the passionate home fans combining to create quite a sight in their green Mexico shirts. “I couldn’t believe it when I went out on the pitch, with 100,000 people there,” said a suitably impressed Cubero. “I’ve played in full stadiums before, but nothing like this. It was a beautiful sight and it motivated us a lot too.”
The defiant keeper will now return to this home club Cerro in Montevideo, where he was discovered by former Santos idol Rodolfo Rodriguez, one of the best keepers Uruguay has ever produced.
His dream is to play in Europe one day and to perform again and again in the world’s most famous footballing arenas. Having had a taste of the big time at the Azteca, the young shot-stopper is hungry for more: “As a footballer you always want to play at the big stadiums. You always want to see the stands full.”
All Cubero will be hoping for now is that the next time he steps out on a similar stage, the fans will be applauding and cheering his every save.