One of the most unusual stories in this FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003 has to belong to Paraguayan goal-getter Nelson Haedo. A complete unknown to his coach and teammates in Asuncion before the competition, he tells FIFA.com how he was called up to the national youth squad on the back of rave reviews on his progress in the German league.
With the decisive tie against Spain just hours away, the striker reveals the bets he has cashed in on after the recent triumph over Germany, and how he means to extend his winning streak. The front man throws down the gauntlet to the Iberians and even ventures a result.
"So the Spanish central defenders reckon no-one else will put any more past them in the tournament? Are they sure about that? Because if they fancy a flutter, here I am!" jokes the powerful young attacker currently on the books of Germany's Werder Bremen. And he has good reason to believe he is a safe bet: "When we played Germany, I was up against two of my best friends in the club, Christian Schulz and Alexander Walke. Walke said if I got on the scoresheet he would invite me to a night out, dinner, drink, dancing - the works. Well, now he has to stump up," he says through laughter.
Nelson walks the walk and talks the talk in a way that belies his tender 20 years: "I grow in the face of adversity. I like playing against sides that think they're unbeatable. But we have to keep a cool head and just play our game. We’re going to teach them all about Guarani bite," says the forward.
. "I saw a bit of Spain in their game against Argentina. They're among the best in the world and they have a quality playmaker in Andrés Iniesta. I really like how that lad does his stuff. We'll have to watch him like a hawk," he adds.
Better the devil you know?
The story goes that Rolando Chilavert had never even seen Haedo play when he got wind of the young Paraguayan's smooth adaptation to German football. "He's quick, he pops up at the right time and he's good in the air," they were saying about him in Europe. With these glowing references in his hand, the coach wasted no time in picking up the phone: "I didn't even know the other lads' names. We met on the plane. I spoke to the boss during the training sessions, he asked me where I felt most at home and the rest just came together. Things have worked out fine so far," he says.
This fan of Ronaldo and Roque Santa Cruz was earning a crust in the Paraguayan lower divisions until Werder Bremen chairman Jürgen Born happened to catch one of his performances: "His wife is Paraguayan, so that's why he was there. He offered me the chance to try my luck over in Germany and as you can see, it's paid off."
Of course, it was no bed of roses at first: "It's a very different way of life, and it can be difficult for someone as young as me to adapt to all the changes. Luckily, I've learned the language now and my girlfriend is with me. Having her there definitely lightens the burden."
In the FIFA World Cup France 1998, the Paraguayans were paired against the Spaniards at the first-round group stage. Their clash ended 0-0, but it was the South Americans who were ultimately to go through: "I remember seeing the last group game on television with my family. Spain were hammering Bulgaria and we had to win. That triumph was a massive result for us, we all flooded out into the streets to celebrate," he recalls.
"Football will always give you a chance to get your own back. We had it this time with Germany, who knocked our senior side out of the 2002 World Cup. In this case, though, it's up to the Spaniards to try and get even," he grins.
Nelson made himself a promise that special day, a promise UAE 2003 has let him keep: "I remember that Paraguayan television broadcast the game live from Miguel Benitez's parents' house. It was a beautiful thing and I promised myself they would do the same with my family one day. In the last match against the Germans, there they were, all the media knocking on my mum and dad's door, so I guess you could say it's mission accomplished."
The player has time to answer one more question before getting an early night in Al-Ain ahead of the big day: "The score? 2-1 to Paraguay. And I'm hoping I get at least one of them."