“When I saw the ball go in, well, I just let myself go. I ran to the sidelines and let loose all of my emotions.” This was how Jese, in between gasps for breath, reflected with FIFA.com on his winning goal against Mexico, a strike that propelled his nation into the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013.
“It was tough,” said the young Spaniard. “But I cut inside and managed to get a shot in.” His low effort from outside the box took a slight deflection off Mexican defender Abel Fuentes, leaving the goalkeeper stranded and ending up in the bottom corner of the net.
“If I hadn’t hit it firmly, it probably wouldn’t have gone in, as the defence could have blocked it,” he explained. But Fuentes lost his balance at a key moment and was unable to prevent the in-form forward from notching his fifth goal of the tournament and completing an impressive Spanish comeback.
La Rojita had in fact trailed their CONCACAF opponents for the majority of the encounter, after Arturo Gonzalez had taken advantage of some indecision in the European champions' rearguard to give his side the lead after just two minutes of play. Spain, accustomed to controlling matches, were then forced to dig deep to get back into the contest.
“We thought we were out,” Jese said sincerely, recognising that while luck had escaped him and his team-mates in the first half, they benefitted from a large slice of it in the second period.
“Mexico started out much stronger than us, but we dominated the second half and we shared a bit of the luck that they had had themselves in the first half, which played a part in the great goal they scored. Football’s like that – it gives and it takes away. For us, it took away at the beginning, but it gave us something back at the very end,” he said, smiling broadly.
Answering questions in the mixed zone at the Ali Sami Yen Arena in Istanbul, the Spain No10 certainly did not have the demeanour of someone who has just competed hard for 90 minutes. However, a feeling of frustration descended on him as he recalled the disjointed team performance in which Spain’s usual collective style appeared to be lacking.
“At the break I told my team-mates that we were not playing well, or in the way that we always do – as a team,” he explained. The Real Madrid striker is one of the leaders of the side, a status that comes through in his manner of speaking, though his words are uttered without a trace of arrogance.
In fact, despite the importance of his goal, he was almost as delighted to see Derik, his room-mate, score the equaliser a quarter of an hour beforehand. The defender, whom Jese refers to as his ‘brother’, triggered Spain’s remarkable fightback in the 74th minute, knocking home Denis Suarez’s flick-on from close range.
“I already told him the other day in our room that I had a feeling he would score a goal here in Turkey. I didn’t know which match it would be, just that he would get on the scoresheet. And he couldn’t have picked a better moment!” he said, laughing. “I’m really very happy for him.”
Jese readily admits that he did not put in his best display to date against Mexico, although the late strike more than made amends for that: “There’s no doubt that I didn’t have a great game, but you can’t always get full marks for your performances. What really counts is the goal, which came at such a crucial time.”
He let out a deep breath, reliving the moment again in his mind, and the ensuing avalanche of team-mates burying him during his celebration. “I just released all the anger that had been building up inside at the thought of us having to go back to Spain. And then, all of a sudden, we’re in the quarter-finals. It’s enough to drive you crazy."
And it goes without saying, of course, that team morale is extremely high after such a memorable comeback. “This game, which was on the verge of being a disaster for us, has now given us a massive confidence boost ahead of the quarter-finals,” concluded Jese.
Spain’s next opponents can count themselves forewarned.