Gerson Lima, Guatemalan hero
© AFP

When Gerson Lima went outside to play a backyard game of football twelve years ago, the seven-year-old would have been astonished to hear that one day both he and his young teammate Cristian Lima would be playing for their country at a FIFA competition, and even more surprised if you told him that his name would be plastered on the front page of every paper in the country, hailed as the hero who took Guatemala to Colombia 2011.

Yet four months ago, at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Guatemala, it was the same Gerson Lima, now 18, who scored two group stage goals to take his side through to a quarter final against USA, where he made it a third to achieve a 2-1 victory over the fancied North Americans, booking a berth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals and triggering wild celebrations from the more than 13,000 Guatemalans filling the stands.

Speaking to FIFA.com Gerson Lima reminisced about the match: “I can’t describe how I felt when I scored that goal. I can still see that ball floating in from a corner kick. I jumped up between two defenders and headed it in.”

“I also remember the reaction of the crowd,” he added. “I can hear their chants as if it all happened yesterday. It was a real career highlight.”

The Guatemalans have had a tough time of it in Colombia but Gerson is prepared to shoulder some of the blame for failing to score against Nigeria and Saudi Arabia: “I had a number of chances to score but I couldn’t take advantage of them. It’s obvious that we’re going to have to work hard at that part of our game, whether it’s with me or another player. There’s a saying in Guatemala, ‘If you don’t score goals, you’ll concede them,’ and that’s what happened.”

I remember the reaction of the crowd, I can hear their chants as if it all happened yesterday. It was a real career highlight.
Gerson Lima on scoring the goal that took Guatemala to Colombia 2011

But the young striker also sees Guatemala as a victim of circumstances beyond their control, citing the injury to playmaker extraordinaire Kendel Herrarte, whose loss has impacted the side’s ability to create chances on goal.

“Kendel’s absence has affected us more than I can say. He’s a key figure in the side and we miss him a lot. Usually I play in a very advanced position alongside Henry Lopez and Herrarte provides us with the chances but we haven’t had him with us in Colombia.”

Turning to his childhood friend and teammate Cristian Lima, Gerson said, “We’ve known each other for 12 years now, and played together for a lot of different sides. We first met when my friends invited me for a game of football and brought this kid Cristian along. We’ve been great friends ever since.”

“He’s an amazing guy and very happy-go-lucky,” a smiling Lima continued. “It’s so important for me to have a friend I can really trust and talk to about anything.”

Lima and his teammates only have one more game at this FIFA U-20 World Cup, and they hope to use to opportunity to show the world what they can do. But whatever happens, Gerson Lima takes inspiration from his idol Lionel Messi, who also came of age at the competition, and considers the time spent in Colombia as invaluable.

“Aside from anything else it has been a fantastic experience,” he enthused. “I’m just proud to be here. If we work hard we can develop and improve in the future. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and I’m just delighted to be here in Colombia.”

All that remains for him now is to get a goal for Guatemala on Sunday, but whether he does or not, Gerson Lima’s future looks bright indeed.