Maximiliano Moralez rarely goes unnoticed. Whether it be at the Albicelestes' training camp or on the field of play, the goalscoring midfielder has a happy knack of making his presence felt. A bundle of restless energy both on and off the pitch, the diminutive 1.60m (or 5-foot-3-inch) youngster has helped drive Argentina to within twof matches of a second successive FIFA U-20 World Cup crown.
"Maxi has been absolutely brilliant. He's an outstanding player in his position, and has made great progress. The coaching staff are really happy with his performances," says coach Hugo Tocalli. Not only has the Racing Club player been one of only six Albicelestes to have played in every game thus far, he is the team's second-highest scorer with three goals.
That said, the No.17 is not at his most comfortable when receiving praise, doggedly preferring to deflect compliments onto his fellow squad members. "Of course it's nice to hear the coach and other people speaking highly of me, but I genuinely believe that it's the team as a whole that deserves the praise. If it wasn't for the lads, I wouldn't be able to perform this well," he tells FIFA.com.
On the goal trail
Moralez's displays on Canadian soil have underlined his role as one of Argentina's creators-in-chief, but the gifted midfield man's game is not just about assists. Timing his attacking surges to perfection, Moralez's finishing has also been of the highest order, scoring his side's vital first goal of the competition against Panama and grabbing the winner in the hard-fought quarter-final with Mexico.
"I'm very happy to be scoring goals, especially because it's great for my confidence. After you've scored a goal, you approach everything with even greater determination. But what matters is feeling like I'm doing my bit for the team. And if that means scoring goals, so much the better!"
The Argentine starlet will not be resting on his laurels, however, and is fully aware of the need for complete focus ahead of Thursday's semi-final against neighbours Chile: "We know that we're just one small step away from our objective, but it's not going to be at all easy."
The two national sides last played each other just six months ago at the South American U-20 Championship in Paraguay. Moralez, part of coach Tocalli's side in January's game, feels that the 0-0 result will have no bearing on the upcoming semi. "The circumstances are different. What I can say is that Chile have great players like [Alexis] Sanchez and [Arturo] Vidal," he underlined, before adding, "I've not seen them first-hand this tournament, but I know they're performing well. They are a very tough team."
So, what does Maxi believe will be the decisive factor in Toronto? "The key will be in how we perform. We can't afford to repeat some of the things we did against Mexico," says the young man. "If we can get hold of the ball, push ourselves that bit harder and take the chances we create, then we can book our place in the final."
Should the Albicelestes successfully overcome the challenge of La Rojita, Moralez will be one step closer to his pre-tournament objective. "I came here to become a champion. That's what we're working towards, and I must confess that I'm really enjoying it. This is the only time I'll ever get to play at a U-20 World Cup, so I'm trying to enjoy each day. And if we can take the title on top of all that, then I'll be doubly satisfied."