Mauricio Antonio ends his year on a high

12 Dec 2017
  • Mauricio Antonio scored a brace in his first FIFA Club World Cup match

  • Brazilian defender helped Urawa to a 3-2 win over Wydad, which sealed fifth spot

  • “December is definitely my best month,” he said

Brazilian centre-back Mauricio Antonio could not possibly have dreamed of a better way to end the year: after missing Urawa Red Diamonds’ opening FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017 match against Al Jazira last Saturday, he was instrumental in the Japanese team’s 3-2 victory over African champions Wydad Casablanca at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on Tuesday.

Not only did the 25-year-old put in an assured defensive performance, he also scored twice with his feet, not something to which he is generally accustomed. He had previously succeeded in getting on the scoresheet for Urawa and other former employers, but those goals all came via his head.

“I’m delighted to have scored twice today, but I’m even happier with our win,” Mauricio Antonio told after the match for fifth place. “Those two goals were fantastic, though. I’m used to scoring with my head, but sometimes I try my luck with my feet. And today it worked... twice!”

If Antonio did not expect to score against Wydad, he certainly did not foresee himself firing home one of the goals of the tournament so far. In the 18th minute, after receiving a square ball from Takuya Aoki, he produced a thunderous right-footed strike from long range that flew past opposing goalkeeper Badreddine Benachour’s outstretched hand.

“I didn’t think I’d be one of the goalscorers today,” he admitted. “For the first one, I was pretty well positioned to have a shot, but I’m also really glad to have added a second one, which put a smile on the faces of my team-mates, our fans and my family.”

Memorable month It appears that December may be Mauricio Antonio’s lucky month, in fact, because at around the same time last year, he also scored a brace for Maritimo in the Portuguese League. Does he tend to take things up a notch in December?

“Right now, I’m just trying to fit in and get used to the way the team plays,” said a grinning Antonio, who only signed for Urawa in August. “I always try to give 100 per cent.”

The Sao Paulo native, who began his career with local club Juventus in 2014, is looking forward to the Japanese season starting back up. “It’s due to kick off next year. Right from the outset, I’m going to give my all to ensure the team obtains positive results.”

What are the chances of him scoring more goals with his feet next year? “Pretty good, I’d say,” he replied, laughing. “I’m definitely going to get on the scoreboard more regularly.” On that jovial yet confident note, he left for the airport, where a flight to Brazil would take him home to see his young daughter Valentina, who was born in December, his favourite month.