In the heat and humidity of the Lagos night, the Teslim Balogun stadium is still lit up, but little evidence remains of the party held here by the Nigerians about an hour before. On the pitch where they lost to the hosts, the Spanish players walk along, heads down, as if searching for answers to their painful defeat.
Among them, Isco is easily recognisable, walking purposefully with head held high. "We're disappointed, there's no denying it," he tells FIFA.com. "To be honest, it was a tough game from the start. Nigeria are very strong and made it difficult for us throughout. We had our sights on the title, but that's football. Sometimes your opponent beats you and you have to accept it," he says, looking towards the stands.
The gifted No10, who rose through the ranks at Valencia, is the archetypal Spanish player. He plays the ball on the ground, is always looking to pass and move, and is a regular in the opposition penalty box. "These tactics have been the key to Spain's success in the last few years," he explains. Against Nigeria, however, they seemed to come unstuck against the hosts' more physical display. "Physically, they were much stronger, but they also showed what they can do with the ball. They knew how to play against us, especially in the first half, and we had no answer," says Isco, one of the players who came close to equalising for Gines Melendez's team early in the second half.
"We went out in the second half determined to equalise, we pinned them back and had several chances. But you can't let your guard down for a second, which is what happened to us. We made a mistake from a throw-in, we couldn't clear the ball and they made it 2-0. Our heads dropped after that," he admits.
We want the medal
Despite the disappointment, Isco is confident that Spain can bow out on a high. "Since we're here, it would be nice to have a medal to show for our efforts at least. We don't want to go home empty-handed," he says, as Spain prepare to take on Colombia on Sunday.
The Cafeteros, who went out to Switzerland in their semi-final, have already come up against Spain in two friendly matches ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup™, garnering a 3-0 defeat and 1-1 draw for their efforts. "They're a strong team, who play quick, technical football. We did well against them in our matches before the World Cup, but now we're both in a different situation. We're determined to secure third place, and we're going to fight all the way for it," says this professed fan of Andres Iniesta and Valencia team-mate David Silva.
Asked for his overall impressions of the event, Isco replies, "Playing in a World Cup is always a great experience, which is why I'll have great memories of Nigeria. We were well-received wherever we went, for which we're extremely grateful." He knows that once home, a new challenge will await him, as he aims for a place in the Valencia first team. "My footballing career has only just started, so I have many dreams to fulfil. I just hope things will keep going as well as they are now." Given his outstanding talent, he should have no worries on that score.