The sight of fans wearing their team’s shirt emblazoned with their favourite player’s name on the back is a familiar one for any visitor to football arenas across the globe. Yet at Dubai’s Rashid Stadium on Saturday, there was nevertheless something remarkable about seeing the tradition continued, as there was no Mesut Ozil, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo out on the pitch.

Instead, Canada and Austria were contesting their FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013 match in the United Arab Emirates. One trio of fans in particular was not only sporting the Canucks’ shirt, but the No3 jersey bearing the name Roubos. They were not just any supporters though, but the parents, Sandra and Peter, and brother George, of Canada defender Elias Roubos, who had travelled from their homeland to cheer him on.

We’ve definitely got a chance! 

Canada's Roubos has no fear of Argentina

“I’m so proud of my son,” Peter told outside the stadium. “It’s a dream come true. He’s been playing since he was small but we never imagined something like this would be possible. He plays with his heart. I’ve always told him he should use Franz Beckenbauer as a role model.”

The player’s mother Sandra was equally enthusiastic: “I’m excited, very proud and very happy. It’s a huge honour to represent your country, it’s the best thing a 17-year-old can do.”

When Roubos tucked away a 58th minute penalty to put his side 2-1 up, there was no holding back in the stands, as his family celebrated with a group hug. Elias made sure to seek out his own band of followers and make eye contact after wheeling away in delight.

“I didn’t really know what else to do,” the player told afterwards, smiling. “As a defender you don’t score very often. It’s great that my family’s here, they support me wherever I go. My mum and brother are almost always there and this time my dad made it too. That means a lot to me and my goal was for them. I owe almost all of my success to my family. They’ve taken me everywhere and make sure I’m always ready on time.”

Close bond with brother George
George, the older of the two siblings, is clearly proud of his brother and is a constant companion wherever he goes, be it Panama, Spain or the United Arab Emirates. “I always travel to see him. Elias is very self-confident, which is why he took the penalty. He’s a great brother and at home we do everything together. After every game we send each other text messages and he asks me how he played. It was a shame they didn’t beat Austria, but they can still go a long way. With 17-year-olds it all depends on who’s on form on the day.”

The 2-2 draw left Elias ruing what might have been, especially as Canada failed to make the most of several good goalscoring chances: “We played well and a win would have been deserved.”

That would have marked a historical first for Canada, who have yet to taste victory at the U-17 World Cup, with 13 defeats and three draws recorded to date. “We can end that run,” Roubos said. “We’re the underdogs but we can compete against any team at this tournament.” Pressed as to whether that included Argentina, Roubos was unequivocal: “We’ve definitely got a chance!”

With the end of his interview with approaching, the centre-back took the opportunity to send a message to his family, who he is yet to meet face to face in the United Arab Emirates: “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I hope I can repay you one day by making it as a professional player.”