Likely to tangle with Mexico and Costa Rica as they battle to reach the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, El Salvador have managed to harness the growing confidence and raw talent of a squad symbolised by attacking midfielder Arturo Alvarez.
It is often said that it is the little things that make all the difference in top-level football. One of those things tends to be luck, a commodity that has been in short supply for El Salvador over the past few years. And while Los Cuscatlecos' last appearance at world football’s flagship event was way back in 1982, the team are certainly not lacking is self-belief this time around: ‘We’ve got enormous confidence in ourselves,” Alvarez explained to FIFA.com.
Currently sitting top of Group A of Round Two of the CONCACAF qualifiers, El Salvador have been trying to ‘put a bit of joy’ into their game, according to coach Ruben Israel, appointed earlier this year. Ahead of their trip to take on Dominican Republic and a subsequent return home to face Cayman Islands four days later, morale in the Salvadorian camp is high.
“We really do have some great players,” proclaimed the Real Salt Lake playmaker. “The coach has done a tremendous job. He looks at things differently and gives us a lot of confidence. We knew that we would face smaller teams at this stage of the competition, but we’re keen to win all of our games, and can’t wait for the next challenge,” he continued.
Two years after his international debut, Alvarez, born in Houston and capped for the USA at U-17, U-18, U-20 and U-23 level, typifies the ‘joy’ described by his coach, who strongly believes in the collective strength of the team.
"If we can get through this round, we’ll be outsiders rather than favourites,” said Alvarez. “But we’ve shown that we’re just as likely to win points as anybody else. Our 5-0 scoreline from our defeat to Mexico in the Gold Cup was not a true reflection of the play. I enjoy myself so much when playing for this team, and I’d love to keep our winning run going and qualify for Brazil 2014,” added the 26-year-old.
Having taken part in the second half of his country’s unsuccessful qualifying campaign for South Africa 2010, Alvarez is desperate for his side to get things right this time around.
"We were so close to getting a result against USA; we led 2-0 but still ended up losing. And we were out of luck again during the Gold Cup earlier this year. In the quarter-final against Panama, they equalised in the final seconds, and we ended up losing the match on penalties,” recalled the former San Jose Earthquakes man.
He is, however, quick to make clear that he is not looking for excuses: “We’re to blame too, of course – we need to learn how to play for an entire 90 minutes without losing our focus. The coach would do well to work on that aspect, because it’s crucial. We have to try to improve our ability to hang on to a lead."
While, in Alvarez’s eyes, El Salvador do hold on to the ball very well, they lack leaders on the pitch with experience of European football. ‘Without that, it’ll always be difficult for us to make the step up to the next level,” pointed out the attacking midfielder.
‘I’m really surprised that we’ve got so few players competing in the big leagues around Europe, because there’s certainly no shortage of talent. Lots of them could play over there, provided they’re capable of dealing with the downs as well as the ups,” continued Alvarez, who took part in a trial with Bordeaux back in 2007.
“These World Cup qualifiers are also a good showcase, as we saw at the Gold Cup. After that tournament, one of our younger players signed a deal with a second division Russian team. That provides an additional motivational,” admitted the one-time protégé of Carlos de los Cobos, the coach who handed him his first international cap.
Two years on from that maiden appearance, Alvarez now believes the side boasts a solid core of players, which in turn provides a solid foundation upon which to build an El Salvador team that fans can be proud of. And if Lady Luck was to suddenly turn her gaze upon the Central Americans once again, who knows what they might achieve?