Chilean supporters are particularly fond of Ismael Fuentes, due in part to his goal and ensuing ‘donkey ears’ celebration against Colombia in the first match of the recent South American qualifying phase for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
A product of the youth set-up at third division Linares, a modest club based some 300 kilometres south of Santiago, the transformation of ‘El Chupalla’ (a traditional horseman’s hat worn in the Chilean countryside) from provincial packhorse to football thoroughbred has been remarkable.
A sturdy centre-back, what Fuentes lacks in finesse, he makes up for with tenacious man-to-man marking. Previous employers such as Talca-based Rangers, Colo Colo, Jaguares and Atlas in Mexico, as well as his current club Universidad Catolica, have all benefitted greatly from his fighting spirit and professionalism.
His first taste of international football came in 2003, when he was called up to represent Chile in qualifying matches for the 2004 Olympic Football Tournament in Athens. He subsequently broke into the full side, but was denied an extended run in the team until the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela, where he was named in then coach Nelson Acosta’s starting line-up for three of La Roja’s matches in the continental competition.
Current Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa has regularly selected Fuentes during his tenure, calling on him in eight of the matches that paved the way to South Africa 2010. It was therefore no surprise to find the defender included in the Argentinian’s final squad for the global showpiece.