Coming off the bench to score the winning goal is an intense experience for forwards at the best of times. But to do so in extra-time during a pulsating match against tournament favourites Spain, and thereby send Uruguay into the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, is something else altogether.
“The truth is I could never have dreamed of coming on to bag the winner against a team like Spain,” Felipe Avenatti, the hero of the hour, told FIFA.com though uncontrollable grins. The beanpole striker had earlier used his natural height to leap and power a corner from the left into the back of the Spanish net, propelling Los Charrúas into the semi-finals of Turkey 2013 in the process.
The rangy front man’s smile grows when asked about his team’s post-match celebrations in the changing rooms. “Yes, there was a lot of laughter and partying. We’re delighted because we felt like our victory was deserved. While I was on the bench, watching my team-mates run themselves into the ground…” he trailed off, as if replaying his side’s tremendous effort in his mind.
After a couple of seconds, he returns to the present moment and the realities of the mixed zone at Ataturk Stadium in Bursa. “This win is down to all of us, to the entire squad,” he said, seemingly unable to remove the smile from his face.
Avenatti laughs when asked if there are further festivities planned for this evening. “Yes, yes; fun, music and celebrations. But all done calmly and responsibly, of course!” This is probably a sensible approach, given that La Celeste are now just 90 minutes away from the final, and that it will be vital for the players to recover from their exertions versus La Rojita.
As far as the Uruguay No20 is concerned, the reasons behind the ousting of one of the candidates for the title are very clear.
“We knew they’d have a lot of the ball and so we decided to soak up their attacks and hit them on the break, which I think we managed to do pretty well. In the second half, as they were tiring, we asked them a few questions and found a way to beat them, thankfully. The general idea was to frustrate them, put pressure on them and counter-attack them,” he explained.
And that is exactly how the game played out for Uruguay, who eventually got the better of Spain in a match that could have actually gone either way, with both sides guilty of missing good opportunities in normal time.
It took until the 103rd minute, five after he had come on as a substitute, for Avenatti to put the South Americans into the lead and maintain Uruguay’s chances of holding aloft the coveted trophy.
“We’ve come a long way,” said the imposing attacker. “We started with a defeat by Croatia, but then we beat Uzbekistan 4-0 in our third group match, and that gave us a lot of confidence. From that point onwards, we knew that the knockout games were like cup finals, and so we resolved to give our all.”
Traditionally, Uruguay have always performed well in similar types of do-or-die encounters. What, then, is the diminutive nation’s secret? “This shirt inspires a lot of emotion in us. We’re honoured to pull on a jersey with so much history, and that’s a real advantage that we have over other teams,” replied Avenatti in determined fashion.
With victory achieved, Turkey 2013 has not yet seen the last of this resolute and proud Uruguay side. In the semi-finals, whether as a starter or as an impact substitute, Avenatti will once again be trying to write a new page in the country’s distinguished footballing history.