Gomez shoulders Salvadoran hopes
© AFP

Just like selecting his ten outfield players and the tactics they should adopt, picking a captain is never easy for a coach. But for El Salvador’s Mauricio Alfaro, the decision to appoint Rene Gomez to lead out the Salvadorans at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 was a straightforward one. Despite harbouring slim hopes of lifting the trophy in Istanbul on 13 July, Gomez is proving himself to be a consummate leader, keeping his head up through tough times and raising the morale of his team-mates.

Following the 3-0 opening-match defeat to Group C rivals Turkey in Trabzon, Rene Gomez has had to put aside his own disappointment in order to rally his comrades. "It’s difficult to find the words after a heavy defeat, but it’s also very difficult to fault our performance," the Salvadoran skipper told FIFA.com. "It was a very tough match against very strong opponents. All I said to them was that I was proud of them, because we gave everything and all did what was expected of us."

Which in this case, was standing tall to a man and compensating for their lack of experience, technical flair and tactical nous with qualities that the Los Cuscatlecos have in abundance, namely grit and determination. "We know that for a team like El Salvador playing in a competition like this, all the matches will be tough and every point taken or goal scored is an achievement," explained Gomez, one of ten squad members who play their club football close to home with Salvadoran outfit Turin FESA. "Maybe because it’s the first time we are taking part in a World Cup, there was some apprehension and a degree of uncertainty [going into our first match]. I don’t know what we could have done to win it, but I know that we did our best. At no time were we afraid, and at no time will we be afraid, whoever our opponents are."

In fact, upcoming opponents Australia and Colombia should be warned that El Salvador have unfinished business in Turkey. "Obviously, we still believe that we can qualify," insisted the 20-year-old midfielder, the eldest member of the Salvadoran squad. "We’ve only played one match and there’s still hope with the two games that we have left. We had two objectives in coming here. First and foremost we’re here to learn, to gain experience that can only serve us well later. Whatever the results, that objective will be reached. But we’re also here to qualify for the second round."

Aiming higher
Although the next match against the Young Socceroos leaves the Central Americans with no margin for error, Gomez is taking a typically tenacious approach into the game: "If we each give it our best shot on an individual level, then the team will be all the better collectively," declares the Salvadoran skipper with all the stubborn conviction of his hero, Spanish midfield mainstay Sergio Busquets. "We have to keep moving forward. There are two matches left to play, two finals in which to secure qualification, two chances to show that we deserve our place at the World Cup and that we can go even higher."

This kind of plucky spirit has already served La Selecta well, notably during the CONCACAF preliminary competition when they created an upset by qualifying for the first FIFA U-20 World Cup in their history. "We are realistic, nobody expects us to win the tournament," added Rene Gomez, who is as ambitious as ever despite having fulfilled his childhood dream of playing in a global showpiece. "Every goal scored, every point won will be considered a good performance, but we shouldn’t hesitate to set our objectives higher if we want to progress. When we took to the field against Turkey, our aim was victory, not just damage limitation. We have to approach the next two matches with the same concentration and motivation."

For Gomez and Co, it’s not only about reaching the next round, but also doing their country proud. "The whole of El Salvador can rest assured that we’ll give our all in every match," replied Gomez when asked how the team are regarded back home. "Everything that we are doing we do for them, for our family, our friends, our neighbours, for all the people who followed us here, and for all those who — in one way or another — support us and believe in us. They all know that whatever the results, we will have given everything for them." Stirring words from a young man who carries not just the captain’s armband, but also the hopes of a nation on his sleeve.