As gold medallists at last year's Asian Youth Games football tournament in Nanjing, Korea Republic were installed as favourites for the Boys’ YOFT 2014 title long before their return to this ancient city. Despite justifying their reputation by storming into the final with three wins in as many games, the young Taeguk Warriors hold no fear for fellow finalists Peru and their coach Juan Jose Ore.
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck a sparsely populated area of central Peru on Sunday, the same day that the country's U-15 team beat Cape Verde Islands to reach the final of the Boys' YOFT 2014, where they will face Korea Republic this coming Wednesday. The sad news at least provides Juan Jose Ore and his charges with added motivation to put a smile back on people’s faces at home.
"Our opponents in the final are yet to be confirmed,” the 60-year-old coach and former Peruvian First Division top scorer told FIFA.com following Peru’s latest victory, before the east Asians had eliminated Iceland in the other semi-final, "but whether it's the South Koreans or Iceland, we have what it takes to beat them and I believe in my players."
*Deja vu *Those who believe that Ore is overestimating his team’s chances would do well to know that the man who led Peru’s U-15 team to last year’s South American title is not one for blind optimism. In fact the Peruvian youth coach has already outsmarted Korea Republic on the international stage, masterminding a shock 1-0 win over the East Asian hosts at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007, before taking Los Jotitas to the quarter-finals were they lost 2-0 to Ghana.
"This squad I have now has been handpicked," explained Ore. "The players are all outstanding and have a lot of potential, although each of them has room for improvement, of course. So, whoever we meet in the final, we’re sure to give them a game."
Ore’s latest line-up has certainly been giving the fans back home every reason to smile. Well-drilled and highly skilled, with quality and strength in every department, the Inca youngsters have demonstrated power in abundance at the Boys’ TOFT stadium in Nanjing. According to Ore, who has been a coach in the national youth team setup since 2007, his charges’ displays are testament to the health of the grassroots game in his homeland: "Peru’s youth foundations are very good, there’s some great talent out there and I believe that our future is bright," he said proudly.
Once powerhouses of South American football, Peru have slipped into obscurity over the last 20 years, their last FIFA World Cup™ appearance dating as far back as Spain 1982. Nevertheless in the last decade, the younger generation have taken over the mantle by making rapid progress in youth competitions, qualifying for back-to-back FIFA U-17 World Cups in 2005 and 2007 before creating history at this year’s Youth Olympics. "If this group of players continues to develop as they have been, then I believe that they hold the key to Peru’s hopes of returning to the World Cup," ventured Ore with conviction.
*Core contribution *The Peru coach’s bold prediction stands up to scrutiny if you run the rule over his players’ excellent performances, most notably that of striker Franklin Gil, who trains with the Universidad San Martin de Porres club. The youngster has spearheaded the team’s march to the final, leading the line expertly in the 2-1 victory over Iceland and equalising in the 3-1 victory over Cape Verde Islands with a penalty that he himself had won.
"[Gil] did very well in the last three games," Ore said. "I hope he can continue to progress and become the core of this team."
The Peruvian No14 is fully aware of his vital contribution in helping the* Blanquirroja *boys beat Cape Verde Islands in the semi-finals: "I’m very satisfied with my performance in this game,” the bustling forward told FIFA.com. “Of course, the whole team put on an excellent display and I’m really thankful for the support I got from my team-mates."
So confident is the youngster in his talent that he intends one day to ply his trade in lucrative overseas leagues like his hero, Colombia and Real Madrid playmaker James Rodriguez. "I plan to play abroad in future," said Gil, "which won’t just help my development, but will also reward my family, who have been extremely supportive about me playing football."
Further fuelling Gil’s ambition is the fact that Bayern Munich’s Peruvian goal-poacher Claudio Pizarro also wears the No14 shirt for club and country: "He is Peru's most famous footballer, my dream is to become a great player like him!" said the Inca upstart with a determined expression.