“If we lose, people will be disappointed, even though we’ve had a good tournament overall. I hope we’re able to prevent that happening.” So mused Netherlands forward Robin van Persie last year, sharing his thoughts with FIFA.com ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ Final. As chance would have it, those could just as easily have been the words of Van Persie’s young compatriot and Arsenal colleague Kyle Ebecilio a few days ago.
A stalwart in the Netherlands side at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Ebecilio went into Friday’s Group A meeting with hosts Mexico knowing he and his team-mates had played well without having much to show for it. In fact, the European champions needed nothing short of victory to reach the last 16, but, like their senior counterparts on South African soil, they too head for home after a defeat.
“We played our best match of the whole tournament,” a distraught Ebecilio told FIFA.com moments after the 3-2 reverse. “I don’t know how to explain the fact that we lost. We just didn’t have any luck. In the opening ten minutes, we must have had at least seven clear chances.”
It would be difficult to disagree with the imposing midfielder. Up against El Tri, Albert Stuivenberg’s charges put in an impressive performance that surely merited a more favourable outcome. “That game completely summed up our whole tournament,” added the coach. “We played a fantastic match without winning it. We deserved to stay here, so that makes us even sadder to be going home.”
The Netherlands had originally arrived in Mexico with all the ingredients needed to claim the trophy. Not only did they possess an experienced tactician in Stuivenberg, they also boasted a strong and united squad featuring a number of rare talents, among whom Ebecelio figured prominently. The versatile player was ultimately unable to drag his colleagues through to the knockout phase, but he left a scintillating impression in a short space of time.
I’m very proud of the squad. We fought very hard and we gave everything up until the end.
“I can’t be proud of my personal displays after we’ve played and lost as a team,” he nonetheless underlined, speaking in almost perfect English after spending the past year in London. “That seems paradoxical to me. On the other hand, yes, I’m very proud of the squad. We fought very hard and we gave everything up until the end.”
The Netherlands can also look back with pride at their maiden continental crown, having broken new ground by winning the UEFA European Under-17 Championship title in May. Ebecilio was exceptional in that competition too, diligently carrying out defensive duties in his role as a No6 but also keen to get forward and comfortable in attacking areas. His three goals made him the tournament’s joint top scorer.
Arsenal of qualities
It was a similar story in Mexico as the Arsenal prodigy won back possession, carried the ball up the pitch and spread it around with incredible poise for his age. He also got his name on the scoresheet, driving in a magnificent angled shot from the edge of the area against the hosts. In short, there is little he cannot do, and the broad range of his abilities carries a strong echo of his club-mate Alexandre Song.
“I model myself on him,” said Ebecilio, whose brother Lorenzo plays for Ajax and cousin Jeffrey Bruma is on loan at Hamburg from Chelsea. “He plays in the same position as me and he’s very strong technically. Without wanting to get carried away, I feel like my game is similar to his. I see Alexandre pretty much every day and I learn so much from being around him.”
Add positive influences to his talent, athleticism, intelligence and affable manner, and Ebecilio can clearly draw on a full arsenal of qualities as he sets out to build a successful career in the top tiers of football. Mexico 2011 may have lost an outstanding performer, but the global game can prepare to welcome another.