Whether talking about their ambitions for the tournament or what happens on the pitch, most players at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013 are cautious about what they say to the press. After all, many of the youngsters are giving their first interviews.
Franco Acosta, however, didn't quite play by the rules during an earlier FIFA.com series on the potential stars of the tournament. When talking about what he hoped to achieve in the United Arab Emirates, the Uruguayan forward got straight to the point: he wanted to be the competition’s top scorer.
With three goals in two games – the third a vital last-minute equaliser that earned Uruguay a draw against Côte d'Ivoire on Sunday – the centre forward is off to a good start. “It’s true. I stick to what I said. It’s been a perfect opening for me. I’m delighted to be able to help the team pick up points, and I hope I can carry on in the same way,” he said.
In good company
In the first half against the African champions, Uruguay were unable to reproduce the devastating form that they displayed in their first game against New Zealand, when they pressurised the opposition relentlessly on their way to a 7-0 victory.
It was an incessant, aggressive approach, a little different from the style of play usually produced by Uruguayan teams, whether it is the senior side or the juniors, as seen during the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 or in the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013.
Playing alongside talented forwards like Kevin Mendez, Leandro Otormín and Marcio Benítez would make the life of any striker a lot easier. Not only are overworked defenders more easily distracted, but valuable tips and tricks can be learned from talented team-mates.
“The team is much more dynamic on the counter-attack, but it also helps that we’re such a close unit and that we work for each other. It makes things easier on the pitch,” said Acosta. “I played with Kevin in the South American U-17 Championship, so he understands me best on the field. But the connection with Leandro and Benitez is also growing. I played one game with Benítez in the South American U-17 Championship, and Leandro is getting used to the way we play.”
I know that chances will come my way, and I just hope I can put them away.
The Ivorians, however, dealt effectively with the Uruguayan attack for most of the game. So effectively, in fact, that coach Fabian Coito had to try alternatives, and ended up removing three of his forwards. But he left Acosta on the field. After all, he trusts the top scorer of the South American U-17 Championship. To make matters worse, Côte d'Ivoire goalkeeper Seck Diabagate was having an inspired evening, making a great save to block a header from the striker.
The Uruguayan youngster, however, just needed to be patient - another important virtue for a marksman. He had to wait until the fourth minute of stoppage time before he got his chance, and it came by accident. At first Côte d'Ivoire defender Sherif Jimoh seemed to have everything under control. But when he tried to clear the ball, he ended up hitting Uruguay’s Francis D’Albenas, on as a substitute. The ball fell to Acosta, lurking in the middle of the area, and the striker spun and fired home.
“I don’t really know how it happened. It was a miracle from God, the way the ball landed at my feet like that, just in the right spot for me to score. I didn’t expect it,” he said, alluding to the hallmark of all great finishers: “Yes, that’s what we need to do – always be in the right place.
Not that the striker has to depend on divine intervention to add to his tally – he can also create chances for himself. Either way, the goals are coming, and they are more than welcome when Acosta is competing against the likes of Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho and the Brazilian duo Mosquito and Nathan. “There are a lot of good players in the tournament. I know that chances will come my way, and I just hope I can put them away,” concluded Acosta. And there you have it: for the goal scorer, there’s no room for caution in football.