“Some goals are bigger to fill than others” is a popular saying in football, one that refers not to their physical size but to the responsibility that comes with the task of defending them, a factor determined by the history and stature of the team in question.
As an heir to the likes of Roque Maspoli and Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, 27-year-old Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera can certainly relate to that little nugget of wisdom.
A dependable mainstay of the side that achieved a memorable fourth place at South Africa 2010 and went on to win the Copa America the following year, Nando has been Uruguay’s No1 for the last five years, a fact that says everything about his importance to the Celeste cause.
Currently preparing for his second consecutive FIFA World Cup™ as his country’s first-choice keeper, which begins with Saturday’s Group D opener against Costa Rica, the Galatasaray custodian sat down for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com and assessed his side’s chances at Brazil 2014.
FIFA.com: On a scale of one to ten, how excited are you about the opening game against Costa Rica?
Fernando Muslera: 11! What happened four years ago doesn’t come into it. Though everything was new for me then and though I’m going into this with a slightly different mindset, playing in a World Cup is the biggest thing you can experience as a player. You get almost as excited as you did the first time.
When you read about players picking up late injuries, are you scared it might happen to you?
No, not scared. That would be like thinking you’re going to have a crash every time you get in a car. You have to play without thinking about it, even if the risk is there and I hope no one gets injured. The only thing you can do is just focus being ready.
I prefer to go to the tournament just like we did at South Africa, when we were the last side to qualify and few people gave us a chance.
In which way do you think you’ve changed the most compared to four years ago?
I’m more mature, both on and off the pitch. I’ve learned to control certain emotions that used to get the better of me. I feel more composed now, though that’s also something to do with the team, which has got plenty of experience. There aren’t many people in the side who are making their World Cup debuts.
Do you think Uruguay need to go out and repeat what they did in 2010 to prove it wasn’t a fluke?
No. Because of that fourth place and the Copa America title that followed, Uruguay have generated a lot of expectation around the world, and we ourselves know it wasn’t a fluke. We can’t go to Brazil thinking we have to improve on that and reach the Final. The fans might feel we need to kick on and become world champions, but our first objective must be getting past the group phase.
Would you like to predict who Uruguay might face on the road to the Final?
I honestly wouldn’t. I’m not going to do that. If you stop to think about that, it stops you enjoying the moment. To be champions you have to beat everyone you come across and that’s no joke. I just don’t see any reason for doing it.
Does it annoy you that Uruguay are not regarded as one of the favourites for the title?
Not at all. Uruguay have never been favourites. I prefer to go to the tournament just like we did at South Africa, when we were the last side to qualify and few people gave us a chance of going through. This squad has always had a low profile.
Four years ago you faced South Africa, Mexico and France, and now you’re up against England, Italy and Costa Rica. On paper, was that group tougher than this one?
Though it was my first World Cup and I saw things differently, you have to say that this is a tougher group. Though there are no easy teams any more, which has been the case for a while, this group’s tougher than the other one because of the reputation and experience of the teams. When the draw was made, the first thing people said was: ‘We never have it easy’.
You have to admire [Gianluigi] Buffon. This is his fifth World Cup! He’s 36 but he’s keeping goal like he’s 24.
Even so, Uruguay always seem to thrive on adversity.
That’s true. There’s a little bit of that in Uruguayan people. When things get tough, we usually get going and rise to the occasion. There was a bit of that in South Africa, and I hope it happens again (laughs).
Everyone always says that the first game at the World Cup is crucial. Is that a myth or a fact?
It’s not a myth, I can tell you! The first game is vital, though it’s true to say that it’s not decisive. Costa Rica are not the underdogs in the group. They’ve got players in Europe, they’ve really come on and they’ve been a tough nut for us to crack in the last few years. They almost stopped us from getting to South Africa (Uruguay narrowly beat Costa Rica in the intercontinental play-off for the 2010 world finals).
Which of the three goalkeepers you will face in the first round do you admire the most?
You have to admire [Gianluigi] Buffon. This is his fifth World Cup! He’s 36 but he’s keeping goal like he’s 24. I’ve played against him and he’s brilliant between the posts and a great guy too. I’d love to play for that long for my country.
Is it your ambition to be Uruguay’s greatest keeper of all time?
(pauses) I work hard so I can give my very best. After that, it’s just a question of results and then the headlines that come with them: you can be the greatest, one of the best. I don’t work so that people can say nice things about me. I work so I can make my contribution to the national team.