After coming on as a second-half substitute in Spain's opening Group B game against Uruguay, Sunny Stephen was instrumental in helping Spain rescue a vital point. With his side trailing 2-0 and just 25 minutes on the clock, the player wasted no time shoring up the midfield and changing the mindset of his team-mates. Moreover, it was Stephen's pacy strike that Celeste keeper Mauro Goicoechea could only half clear, allowing Diego Capel to curl home his side's last-gasp equaliser.
Despite his important contribution, the player insists the credit must be shared among the players. "What matters is that drawing that game was good for the whole team. I had to try something, so I fired in a shot. We were fortunate that their keeper made a poor clearance and that Diego was able to score from the loose ball," Sunny tells FIFA.com modestly. "I felt very comfortable when I came on, and all of us were very happy to have turned that game around and got the result we did."
Analysing the game, Sunny says the change in attitude in his team-mates after the break was the key to the match. "In the first half we were a bit off the pace, but once it dawned on us that we didn't have much time, we moved up a gear, got stuck in and managed to get a draw. We'll learn from the mistakes we made against Uruguay, who are a very competitive side, and we'll be more composed in our next game."
The long road from Nigeria
Sunny is a holding midfielder in the Claude Makelele mould who also possesses a powerful shot. Delighted to be here in Canada, the smiling player is confident his coach will use him again at the tournament, and firmly believes his side are capable of great things: " We want to play in and win all seven games. I believe in this team because we have the quality of players needed to win this championship. Furthermore, there is a great spirit in the group."
We see evidence of this even as we conduct the interview, with several of his team-mates stopping to joke with him as they come and go to their rooms. "We get on very well, although I've been the butt of a fair few jokes because of my so-so Spanish," says the midfielder shyly.
The reason Sunny has yet to master the language is because he is a native of Lagos, Nigeria, where he began playing football from a very early age. He had spells with several Nigerian clubs, including FC Ebedei, Jegede Babes and Taribo West, until one day an agent invited him to come to France to try his luck there.
Sunny himself takes up the story: "When I arrived in Paris there was no one to meet me, and I got no answer when I tried to phone my contact. So I called some friends in Madrid, jumped on a bus, and ended up staying with them in Spain. I began playing for a Nigerian XI and took part in the Mundialito de la Inmigración y Solidaridad (The Immigration and Solidarity World Cup). It was there I met my current agent, who brought me to [Spanish second division side] Polideportivo Ejido."
Although the 18-year-old has had plenty of difficult moments in his European adventure, he never once gave up hope. Now, he says, this call-up has gone some way to making up for past disappointments. "I was delighted when they asked me. There was no way I could say no. Nigeria had also been in touch about playing for their senior national team, but nothing concrete came of it. Right now, I'm very happy to have chosen Spain," he says with a broad smile.
Despite his initial reaction, Sunny still sought out his mother's opinion on his international allegiances. "I asked her for her advice, but she told me I was the one who understood football, and that the decision had to be mine." To date his family have been unable to join him in El Ejido (in the south of Spain), although they hope to be allowed to do so shortly and share in this exciting new phase in his Sunny's career. Who knows, there may even be a FIFA World Cup medal waiting for them when they arrive...