Cast your mind back for a moment to 12 June 2005, and Argentina's U-20 side were still trying to come to terms with the previous day's shock defeat against the USA in their FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 opener. Barely three weeks later, however, the Albiceleste, inspired by the phenomenal Lionel Messi, were lifting the trophy and claiming a record fifth world title in the category.
Maximiliano Nicolas Moralez also remembers 12 June 2005 well, but for very different reasons. On that same day, thousands of miles away, the audacious attacking midfielder was making his debut in the Argentinian top flight. Wearing the colours of Racing Club de Avellaneda, many Albiceleste fans got their first glimpse of the diminutive 18-year-old (1.60m and 55kg) with the surprisingly powerful shot.
Today, Frasquito Moralez, an integral member of the side that secured its place at Canada 2007 in the Sudamericano in Paraguay, dreams of emulating Argentina's achievement of two years ago . "How could I forget something like that? That was a fantastic team. Hopefully I can play at the World Cup this year and help defend the title," the player tells FIFA.com.
As the shortest player in his national league, it comes as no surprise to learn his friends and team-mates have affectionately dubbed him El Enano (The Dwarf). "Fortunately, I didn't get much stick about my height, and even then it was mainly in the beginning. The bottom line is: if you play well, no one cares," says the man from Fray Luis Beltran, a town of some 14,000 inhabitants in the province of Santa Fe. "I even go up for a header every now and then, although I know I stand to come off second best. Why do I do that? Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained."
Pressure for places
Despite being without such big-name stars as the aforementioned Messi, Sergio Aguero and Federico Higuain for the regional qualifiers, Hugo Tocalli's side were criticised by many sections of the country's ever-demanding media for their lack of style in qualifying.
"I found that strange. Nobody seemed to consider the fact that we'd had very little time to work together or that we'd played every couple of days in very hot and humid conditions," says Maxi. "But that's part and parcel of playing for Argentina: people will always demand more of you. On the positive side, we set ourselves the twin objectives of qualifying for the World Cup and the Olympic Games, and we achieved both," adds a player who appeared in seven of the eight games, starting six, and weighed in with a goal as well.
Moralez knows that, regardless of who makes the squad for the finals, Argentina will arrive in Canada as one of the favourites. "It's something you just have to accept and get on with, because our national team are always one of the favourites - that's taken for granted in Argentinian football. We're going there to play our World Cup. Hopefully it will work out like previous editions, but it is still a whole new tournament. For now though, we have to focus on our preparations, nothing else."
The ongoing doubts about whether Messi or Aguero will form part of the squad for Canada is not one that is unduly worrying Moralez. "They're great players obviously, and each would do their bit, just as I would, but I don't see myself as being a replacement for anyone. If I'm included in the squad for the World Cup, it will be because of what I've done at Racing. My top flight experience counts in my favour, and I don't feel any pressure from the debate about who should or shouldn't be included," says the player, with the kind of conviction he always displays on the pitch.
Step by step
Like many young players of his calibre, Moralez dreams of one day playing for the senior national team and a possible move to Europe, although he insists he is in no hurry. "I'd like these things to come in tandem with my performances, which is why I'd first like to help Racing improve their (league) position, and then be selected by Tocalli for the World Cup. As for the other stuff, we'll see about that later."
When asked about the Czech Republic, Panama and Korea DPR, Argentina's Group D opponents for the finals, Frasquito openly admits to knowing little about them. "It's important that we go there prepared, but we all know that there are no soft touches (at a World Cup). There's a good reason why all these teams have qualified. I couldn't tell you much about them, but all that really matters is what we do on the day."
Though small in stature, Moralez is highly regarded by the Racing faithful, who are not averse to chanting his name - much to the player's delight. Since his debut on that June day in 2005, he has played 42 times for the Avellaneda outfit and scored seven times, the most memorable of which was a stunning 35-metre strike in a recent game against Lanus. As if to underline that size is no obstacle to him, the keeper he left floundering on that occasion was the tallest in the league.
Now with Canada 2007 just round the corner , the gifted midfielder cannot hide his dream of going all the way. "Everyone going to the World Cup will have the same goal, and I'd certainly be no exception: we're hoping to become world champions."