“The high point of my career is right now, this moment. Being here in Turkey, with this team and among this group, is my biggest highlight.”
From the sounds of things, Diego Rolan is enjoying himself at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. The pacey Uruguay striker's tournament may not have got off to the best start, with their opening 1-0 defeat to Croatia, but he feels that the South Americans have all the ingredients to progress beyond Group F.
As a result of that narrow defeat, the Uruguayans' match with New Zealand takes on a real air of importance, with anything but a win leaving their status at Turkey 2013 in a critical status. They started slowly against the European side - a familiar problem for them at competitions, Rolan concedes - and the way they begin the coming games has become a point of priority.
“We have to start the game in a more focussed and coordinated fashion as we expect New Zealand, like Croatia, to be tough opponents,” the 20-year-old said. “There were many things we did well in that game, particularly in the second-half where there is no need for change, we just need to start better."
Coincidentally, Rolan's only game at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, prior to playing Croatia, was against New Zealand, having been the youngest - and only - remaining member of the squad that drew 1-1 with the Oceania side at Colombia 2011.
It is experience that sets him in good stead as one of the more elder statesmen amongst the current crop. “Obviously the time I spent in Colombia was very important, and it is really benefiting me now,” the Bordeaux striker explained. “It has given me the confidence and experience to remain calm in games, allowing me to try to keep the team focussed and not panic when we are up against it.”
Rolan comes into the tournament after performing well at the South American Youth Championships, scoring four times as Uruguay finished third, and the fact they recovered from a sticky start there – a 3-3 draw with Peru – gives him confidence they can hit their stride in Turkey. “The first match was difficult for us, as always seems to be the case for Uruguay,” he admitted. “However, I feel the players who found their form in front of goal in Argentina, like me and Nicolas Lopez, can do the same here once we have adapted to the tournament."
Had it not been for a fabulous save by Croatia's Oliver Zelenika from a Rolan header, he would have already opened his account. And it is in the forward line that he believes Uruguay's greatest strength lies. "I have some real quality around me in attack and, if we remain focussed on keeping things tight in defence, I believe it can give us the foundations to go out and get goals.”
Three-quarters of the current side were among the squad that featured in qualification, and as a result they have bonded well as a unit. However, after the opening defeat, any talk of Uruguay winning their first-ever FIFA U-20 World Cup is very much on hold. “We have a great quality of players and have a good team spirit, but it is far too early to be talking about the potential of winning the tournament as it is a long competition,” the forward said. “Particularly after our first result, we have to concentrate on our next game, and then the one after, before we can start dreaming of winning the title.”
That team spirit is also no doubt aided by the presence of six Defensor SC colleagues – if you include Rolan who moved to France at the start of the year – and it is a club that is close to his heart. “Defensor are very important to me, I played for them from the age of ten and was there for a decade. Everything I am and everything I own is thanks to them,” the Montevideo native said. “They develop you not just as a player but as a person too, so it prepares you well to perform at a higher and higher level. It is no coincidence that there are five other Defensor players in the squad here.”
Now in Ligue 1, Rolan has no issues in admitting the transition has been hard, and though his mind is firmly with Los Charruas now, he has high hopes for his time in Europe. “While I'm here, my mind is fully on the job at hand with Uruguay, but when the tournament is over, I dream of making my name at Bordeaux.”