Bolivia’s Carlos Saucedo will surely never forget the events of 16 October 2012, and with good reason. Indeed, how often does a 33-year-old make their senior national-team debut in a FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in the fiercely competitive South American Zone and fire three goals past Copa America holders Uruguay?
“I’d always dreamed of playing for my country, though what I really wanted was to be finally given a chance,” Saucedo told FIFA.com, clearly still thrilling in the 4-1 win over La Celeste that revived Bolivia’s hopes of reaching Brazil 2014. “Once I knew I was going to start against Uruguay I said to myself: ‘You have to score a goal now.’ That’s because I’ve seen so many proven strikers come in and not perform that I was afraid I wouldn’t be up to the test when it came to my turn. But I never imagined I’d score three!”
What's more, Saucedo has been something of a late bloomer throughout his professional career, with the right-footed forward only making his debut in the Bolivian top flight at the age of 26, back in 2006 at Oriente Petrolero. His first league top scorers’ honours would take a further six years to arrive – when he grabbed 17 in 22 games for San Jose de Oruro in the Clausura 2012.
Not that he was without goalscoring pedigree before then, having struck 18 times in 33 matches for Bolivar in 2007 and 15 in 41 for Aurora in 2010, but a national-team opportunity had always eluded him. Why does he think that was? “There was always a foreign-based player doing well at the same time, and they ended up getting the nod,” said the Santa Cruz-born front-runner, who himself has also played for domestic outfits Blooming and The Strongest, as well as Ecuador’s Deportivo Quito and Colombian side Independiente Medellin.
Nose for goal
Ninety minutes against Uruguay have done Saucedo’s international profile no end of good, however, and the modest goal-getter now finds himself pursuing the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Gonzalo Higuain (all on seven goals) and Falcao (five) in the race for scorers’ honours in CONMEBOL qualifying. “It’s a very nice feeling and something that really spurs you on. They’re still quite far ahead, though, so I need to score more to get into the hunt,” he said with a grin.
“The most important thing is not to get ahead of myself and start saying ‘I’m going to top score in this qualifying phase,’” he continued. “It’s true that I played my part, but I don’t even know if I’ll start the next game. Over and above any selection dilemma I might have given the coach, it’s the team that matters. Our objective is to reach Brazil.”
And in Saucedo’s view, despite their stuttering start, Bolivia were never out of the running for a qualification place. “In our country the fans tend to see everything in terms of results, but we players don’t. So, just as we didn’t feel we had no chance after drawing [1-1 at home] with Peru, we don’t think we’re already there now we’ve beaten Uruguay,” said the self-described “penalty-area opportunist”, whose treble against Las Charrúas – one with the left foot, one with the right and finally a header – underlined his mastery of the art.
“We’re now four points short of the qualifying places and, though we’re already past halfway and we’ve got incredibly tough games next against Colombia away and then Argentina at home [in March 2013], we’ve still got a chance. As long as that’s the case, we’ll never stop believing,” added the man nicknamed El Caballo (The Horse) who, urged on by his team-mates, celebrated his hat-trick goal by miming a gallop across the pitch.
Saucedo is now fully focused on continuing to do his bit to help coach Xabier El Bigotón Azkargorta lead Bolivia to the next FIFA World Cup, a feat the supremo already achieved back at USA 1994. “I’ve got very vivid memories of watching that on TV, and I still can’t believe it’s the same Xabier who’s given me my national-team debut,” said the striker, a fervent admirer of attacking icons Ronaldo and Martin Palermo.
“When the game finished I went up to Xabier and said ‘Thanks gaffer for giving me this opportunity’. He replied, saying, ‘You don’t have anything to thank me for. You’ve earned everything that’s happening to you’. His words really meant a lot to me,” continued Saucedo, who admitted to being unable to hold back the tide of emotion in the hours after his stellar display.
“When I got to the hotel I just started weeping, and the same thing happened once I got back home,” said the player. “I just needed to get it all out my system. I was thinking about all the sacrifices I’d made and my family too, who are always there for me. I was so happy that I barely slept!”
Visibly moved when recalling those post-match moments, Saucedo recovered his composure as the conversation drew to a close. “I’ve had to do it all the hard way and, like the gaffer said, everything I’ve achieved in football is the result of my hard work,” he concluded with the same conviction with which he put Uruguay to the sword.
“I earned my chance with the national team and I didn’t disappoint. Now I’m hoping to stay in the squad and keep helping the team so Bolivia can reach the next World Cup.”