“Historic” is a word the people of El Salvador will be seeing a lot of when they open their newspapers tomorrow morning. It is also one of the first words midfielder Diego Coca uttered after playing his part in today’s 2-1 defeat of Australia in Group C of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 in Rize.
“It’s a historic and incredible moment for our country,” he told FIFA.com in the wake of El Salvador’s first win in a FIFA competition outside beach soccer. “When the referee blew the final whistle it felt like we were touching the sky. To be honest, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”
A quick glance at the reaction online was all that was needed to gauge the importance of his side’s performance and what it means to Selecta fans around the world, who gave free rein to their emotions – a mix of love, pride and encouragement – as Coca and his team-mates ran the clock down against the Australians.
“We know what this signifies for our country and we wanted to make them proud of us,” continued Coca. “We already made history at the CONCACAF tournament by qualifying for our first U-20 World Cup and we knew we could do even better and carry on writing our story.”
What a feeling
Refusing to be downhearted after falling 3-0 to Turkey in their opening game, Los Cuscatlecos faced another test of their character when Joshua Brillante put the Socceroos ahead in the ninth minute.
The crowd at the Yeni Sehir Stadium could have been forgiven for thinking that the Central Americans were in for another difficult night, but Coca was in no mood for giving up. Though only 5’7" tall, the Turin FESA FC playmaker had no difficulty in nodding in Kevin Barahona’s headed assist to level the scores.
“It’s always great to score a goal, but to get one in the World Cup and help secure our country’s first ever win is more than I could ever have hoped for.”
The Salvadoreans were not content with just getting back on equal terms, and their fine performance took on an extra dimension when Jose Pena put his side in the lead before the break.
It was a lead they would hold through to the end and one they almost extended when Tomas Granitto sent a free-kick crashing against the bar.
Following a lively, bright display Coca was taken off after 74 minutes and earned a warm round of applause from an appreciative crowd as he left the pitch. A little over 15 minutes later, his name went down along with those of his team-mates in the annals of El Salvador’s football history.
Those annals also feature the name of the team’s coach Mauricio Alfaro, a member of the squad that appeared at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™, which was led by the inimitable Jorge El Magico Gonzalez, the greatest player the country has ever produced.
“That team made the whole of El Salvador happy. They will be our heroes and idols forever,” said Coca, a self-confessed admirer of Gonzalez and who lists Andres Iniesta and Xavi as his role models. “You can’t be afraid to say it, though, and look the truth in the face, because the fact is we’ve joined that team in being a part of the country’s history. Everyone will remember our generation.”
So does that mean they can match Jorge Gonzalez? “No, no, no,” comes the reply from one of the heroes of the day, reluctant to offend a national icon. “There is only one Magico and there will always be only one. He is the greatest.”
So great in fact that one of the most gifted players of all time, Diego Maradona, was moved to say this of him in 1982, when asked who he thought was the best footballer in the world at the time: “Jorge El Magico Gonzalez is better than me. He’s in another galaxy.”
Over 30 years on, tribute was paid to El Salvador’s very own magic man by another Diego in a No10 shirt, though the 19-year-old Coca has now achieved something not even the conjuror Gonzalez could manage: victory in a FIFA tournament.