In the face of the senior side's failure to ignite in the South American qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006™, all eyes in Colombia have turned to what the junior Cafeteros can come up with in the way of comfort at UAE 2003. With the first stage behind them and only hours to go before the crucial tie against Ireland, striker Edixon Perea chatted to FIFA.com about the game, how he rates his side's chances and his greatest wish: to bring a touch of pre-Christmas cheer to the people back home.
"We know things are not going right with the senior team. Our people want some satisfaction out of sport every day and we're doing our best to give them that", says the Atlético Nacional de Medellín striker in the lobby of the Al Ain Intercontinental, the South Americans' base after successfully negotiating the group stage in Dubai.
"For we footballers, playing in a World Championship is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You have to make the most of it if you want to achieve anything big," he adds.
A diehard América de Cali fan, Perea is a regular in Reinaldo Rueda's forward line. Which is why he is in a perfect position to explain the team's lack of bite in certain stretches of the first phase: "That's football for you. We had a lot of chances against Egypt, but couldn't put them away. We got it right against Japan, but the England game was a tough one. They shut up shop and wouldn't let us play."
Looming on the horizon are the Irish. A defeat would send the Colombians packing from the tournament, a victory would rocket their spirits sky-high. What do the team have to do to win the day?: "The crucial thing is to keep it on the floor, knocking the ball around like we know we can. That will do them all sorts of damage. We know they're big, strong lads, but if we play our game we can do something major here."
Edixon favours a technical brand of football. Proof of that is the list of idols he reels off: "The footballers I most admire are Brazil's Ronaldo and Rivaldo. You can't give them an inch of space because they'll make a fool of you if you do. I always try to watch them in action and do what they do," says the forward, who also rates "Patrick Kluivert, from the Netherlands, who's outstanding in the air. I'd love to be able to head the ball like he does. He makes it look so easy"
Edixon has cheered on his heroes at the América de Cali stadium ever since he was a boy: "They were the biggest thing in my life. Even now, when I'm playing for Atlético Nacional, I'm still an América fan," confesses the striker, who has even had to put goals past his true loves on more than one occasion. "It's the strangest feeling scoring against them. My favourite player is Jairo Castillo, he's so gifted. I just know I'll have the honour of turning out alongside him one day."
Irish game-plan shrouded in mystery
With the clock ticking down for the Europeans' most important tie in the competition so far, coach Gerry Smith was staying tight-lipped about just how his side are going to play the Colombians: "We don't know yet, we only started working on it today." Nerves of steel, or a touch of Irish blarney? "First you tell me how Colombia are going to play and then I'll tell you what we're going to do," winked the Irishman.
Nor was Smith particularly forthcoming about his side's strong points: "We're among the best 16 teams in the tournament, so obviously I'm happy. It's always good to win the group. Our main strength is our team spirit, everyone that plays does a great job for us."