Mexico’s defenders will need to be on their guard when they come face to face with Ecuador’s Jhon Pereira in Monday’s quarter-final in Coquimbo, but then again that is something they should already know, as the in-form striker told FIFA.com: “We’ve already played them once, winning 2-0 in Mexico in a friendly tournament we’d already won. We played a good game in cool conditions and on a fast pitch. I felt really good during that game and I came up with an assist too.”
If there are any Mexicans unfamiliar with the speedy No11, they will not have any difficulty identifying him, not with the distinctive crest of hair atop of his head or the pace in his legs - an asset that forms a crucial part of the Ecuadorian gameplan.
“We are deadly on the counter,” he explains. “The Mexicans are very good at keeping possession in midfield, but we’re going to try and steal the ball from them and make our speed count. Their defence is a little on the slow side and we hope to exploit that.”
It was that very plan that worked to perfection for Ecuador against Russia in the last 16, a game in which the fleet-footed front man opened his tournament account with a brace, his first goal coming three minutes in when he dispossessed the Russian left-back on the halfway line before scampering all the way into the box and beating keeper Aleksandr Maksimenko with a low cross-shot.
He was haring into the Russian penalty area again in the second half, outpacing the defence once more and then neatly dinking the ball over the hapless Maksimenko. “I have very strong legs and the coach is always telling me to stay calm in that kind of situation,” explained the Ecuadorian livewire. “It really is an amazing feeling. I love running in on the keeper and scoring.”
Fast track to Manchester
Few players in the world are as adept in those situations as Cristiano Ronaldo, a player Pereira cited as a huge inspiration: “I love his style in one-on-ones. He always gets the better of his opponents and he’s got a very cool head on him and a fierce shot. They’re the kind of attributes I’m looking to develop so I can become the complete player.”
Pereira has already followed in the footsteps of the insatiable Portuguese goal machine in earning a trial at Manchester United a few months ago: “It was a dream for me and I had a great time there. I played with the U-16s and we beat Manchester City 2-0 in a friendly, and though I didn’t score I did set up a goal with a pass. Right now I’m focusing on the tournament and the match against Mexico, but we’ll be getting in touch again after the World Cup.”
Another highlight of his trip to Manchester was the chance to meet Ecuador skipper Antonio Valencia, who has been with United since 2009 and is another role model for the up-and-coming Pereira. No slouch himself on the pitch, Valencia gave his young compatriot a warm welcome: “We had breakfast at the club with everyone and we spoke a lot,” explained the teenage speedster. “Then he invited me back to his place and treated me really well. He gave me a lot of advice and told me to stay calm and believe in myself.”
Belief is a commodity the pacy Pereira is not short on at the moment, as he will be hoping to prove again when the Mexican rearguard come between him and the goal on Monday.