A six-year-old Colombian pulled on the rickety wellies his mother, a single parent, had saved hard to purchase. Overnight, the rain had thrashed down over the imposing mountains of Manizales, meaning his trek this Friday morning would be incommodious as well as enduring. There was, nevertheless, a spring in Jhon Edison Duque's step as he embarked on the ritual that was a gruelling one-hour-and-20-minute walk just to get to school. For on this particular day, his place of learning would receive a visit from the FIFA delegation in the city.
“I was really excited,” Jhon Edison told FIFA.com, a cute, coy grin etched on his face. His excitement levels rocketed when Coca-Cola was distributed. It may be the world's most celebrated soft drink, but to these impoverished four-12-year-olds, it was alien. Only three of the 60-odd children, indeed, had ever tasted it.
The 11-person-strong FIFA group chatted to the ebullient kids about school and their hobbies – one of which, in a country intoxicated by the buzz of hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup, was naturally football.
And then it was time for the real thing. On the chalky, jagged land the pupils call their pitch, a FIFA team took on the children. And the seniors were certainly red-faced at its conclusion – not exclusively through exhaustion, but also due to a 2-0 defeat! “They're supposed to be the pupils, but it was us who received a tutorial!” joked Mohamed Iya, the president of the Cameroonian Football Federation.
FIFA surrendered; next up for the kids was competition among themselves in the form of a penalty shoot-out. The rules were simple: if you scored, you stayed in the running; if you missed, you were out. The youngsters proved masterful at taking spot-kicks, but eventually the reflexes of goalkeeper Miguel Angel Herrera Lince, one of Colombia 2011's volunteers, ensured only three lads remained.
One, astonishingly, was little Jhon Edison. He was one of the youngest participants and was dwarfed by two comparative hulks. One was 11, the other 12. However, both those preteens failed to find a way past Lince. Jhon Edison, by contrast, generated force that belied his delicate right leg to dispatch the ball in the bottom corner.
The adult in the gloves didn't move. The kid with precocious genius did - as fast as he possibly could until he was scooped into the indescribably proud arms of his 27-year-old mother Nohelia, who had herself made the long journey on foot to witness the festivities.
Jhon Edison's emotions were then torpedoed up the euphoria scale. Adam Brook, FIFA's General Co-Ordinator in Manizales, handed the champion his trophy: six tickets to the Group C match between Australia and Spain. Tears of elation filled his eyes. He was too overcome to even communicate, as his class-mates encircled him to relate their congratulations.
Nohelia explained: “He's overwhelmed. This means the absolute world to him. I would have never been able to afford the bus fare to send him to the stadium, yet alone the ticket. He's so, so happy. And he's very proud that he is able to send me to a match too.”
Jhon Edison was merely the happiest of an elated bunch. Maria Sanchez, in her adorable five-year-old voice, revealed: “We never get visitors here. It's been so nice.”
As the FIFA delegates hugged their goodbyes and wrote affectionate messages to the children, FIFA anti-doping doctor Marco Michelucci said: “It was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.”
Part two of Jhon Edison's party - the superior sequel to an enchanting play – ensued. It transpired on 6 August, when he, his mother, and four family members or friends – namely Liliana Laso, 22, Marcelo Salazar Cardona, 17, Martha Sorani Posada, 15, and 13-year-old Julian Andres Osario - were picked up in an opulent Hyundai to go to the Estadio Palogrande.
Nohelia revealed en route: “[Jhon Edison] has never stopped talking about visit from FIFA or going to the stadium! This car, this treatment... we feel we're on another planet right now.” Marcelo added: “I have always dreamed of one day watching Once Caldas (the region's pre-eminent football team) play, but to go and see a match at the World Cup is something else. I hope Spain win and we see a lot of goals.”
His wishes were heard by somebody upstairs. Not only was there a rare rain recess in Manizales as the group snacked on goodies and drunk Coca-Cola provided for them, but under the piquant clouds, La Roja emphasised what was already a blue-sky day for the sextet by winning 5-1. “It was the best day of my life,” enthused Jhon Edison. "I am very, very grateful.”
Brook replied: “It's me who's grateful to Jhon Edison. He's an awesome kid. The school visit and today was truly a moving experience for all of us. It was amazing to be able to give something back to the people of Manizales.”
FIFA photographers took some photos of the group during the game, and afterwards on the pitch and in the dugout, which were duly posted to them.
Not that Jhon Edison or his five companions would require visual shots to recall an incomparable day. The memories of 6 August 2011 would be infinitely imprinted in their hearts and minds.