On the back of successful spells with America de Cali, Boca Juniors and Internacional, Fabian Vargas's switch to Spanish La Liga outfit Almeria has marked the start of a decisive season for the Colombian midfielder.
"I'm very happy to be in Spain. One of my goals was to play in Europe and I've arrived in La Liga at my sporting peak," said Vargas, who will be coached in Andalusia by Mexico legend Hugo Sanchez. "Taking on the big Spanish teams and players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a huge motivator."
Aside from adapting to his new surroundings, also on Vargas's agenda is helping his national team reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. "The World Cup in South Africa would be a dream come true," he told FIFA.com. "If I make to the World Cup then I'll be able to rest easy when I eventually hang up my boots, because I'll have fulfilled one of my greatest ambitions. No footballer can ask for more."
Next up for Los Cafeteros are decisive encounters against two direct rivals for a qualifying berth, with the visit of Ecuador on 5 September followed four days later by a trip to Montevideo to face Uruguay. Colombia are currently seventh in the ten-team South American Zone standings with four rounds still to play, though they are just a point behind sixth-placed Uruguay and three adrift of the Ecuadorians in fifth - a position which guarantees a play-off against a North, Central America and Caribbean team.
If I make to the World Cup then I'll be able to rest easy when I eventually hang up my boots, because I'll have fulfilled one of my greatest ambitions.
"The games against Ecuador and Uruguay are vital for our World Cup chances," continued Vargas. "At the moment our fate is totally in our hands. We're only thinking about winning because we've still got high hopes of clinching a ticket for South Africa 2010.
"From here to the end of the qualifying phase, every game will be a final. You win games like these with character, grit and passion because everybody's playing for a qualifying spot and everybody wants to be in South Africa," said the Colombian, whose side have scored just seven times in 14 games so far, the group's joint-worst record along with bottom side Peru.
"We do need to improve our finishing. We have to be more clinical in attack because it'd make our job easier. And I'm talking about the whole team, not just the forwards. That said, I'm very happy with the job done in the last five matches. If we can be more clinical and accurate, I'm sure we'll achieve our objective."
"The only thing I'm focusing on is my huge desire to play at a World Cup, because this could be my last chance to take part, to be there with the best," said the Almeria new boy when quizzed about what is at stake in the last four qualifying matches. "All my team-mates and I want to be at the greatest show on earth and to be part of it. I think that our winning mentality will get us there."
Voice of experience
The dynamic midfielder also had words of praise for the work of coach Eduardo Lara, before underlining the important role to be played by Colombia's more battle-hardened performers. "Lara has been able to find a blend of youth and experience that should take us to the World Cup," said Vargas.
"We experienced players are the ones who need to drive the team, the ones who need to control the pressure in these matches and be able to channel it for the good of the team. It's our responsibility to pave the way to South Africa.
"Our national team has missed out on the last three World Cups, and at France 1998 Colombia weren't up to the challenge. That's why we're all desperate to return to the World Cup stage. We want to prove that Colombia can have a great tournament."