Diaz: Chile have no doubts about our style
"It's not how you begin, but how you end." Though uttered in the aftermath of Chile's opening match on home soil in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, this comment by Luciano Diaz to FIFA.com clearly spoke of more than just the 1-1 draw with Croatia, which provided some encouraging signs for the locals. The livewire attacking midfielder's words also hinted at the transitional process the team have gone through in the recent past.
It is worth clarifying that Diaz was not part of the squad that finished last at this year's South American U-17 Championship, which proved something of a baptism of fire ahead of this World Cup. The talented Colo-Colo youngster, one of Chile's best performers in their opener against Croatia, was called up afterwards by new coach Miguel Ponce, who quickly set about drumming the above message into his charges.
The idea seems to have got through to the players. "I never doubted we could bounce back," Diaz said with regard to going a goal down early on in Santiago on Saturday. "We hadn't gone behind in our last few friendlies and we could have got jittery about it happening in the most important match. We didn't let it affect us, though, remaining on the same wavelength and pressing on. It's not how you begin, but how you end."
Substance and style More than just a motivational philosophy, Ponce has also instilled a strong playing identity: "We have a very clear idea of the way we want to play. Regardless of the score, conditions or opponents, we're going to carry on doing the same things: keeping the ball on the deck, playing pass and move, releasing runners into space… We have no doubts about our style."
Not even the impending meeting with reigning champions Nigeria is enough to temper the conviction of the Colo-Colo starlet, who was unearthed on the dirt and stone pitches of mining city Copiapo. Diaz knows that the west Africans will be bigger and more athletic, but is not daunted.
As he put it, "Physique doesn't outweigh talent and team spirit, which is where we're strong. Maybe they can make life tough for us on one front, but we can give them a run for their money technically. They may be difficult to stop from dead balls, but the same goes for us when we move the ball at pace. We're focusing on how to get at them, not on the physical side."
Practising what he preaches Diaz's display against Croatia demonstrated that he believes in what he says. In spite of his diminutive frame – he stands at just 5'4 – he constantly made his presence felt and produced an array of tricks, including a 'no-look' assist for Yerko Leiva's equaliser. "It's not the first time I've tried it and it's come off. I use it to stop my passes getting read by the opposition," he revealed.
An admirer of compatriot Alexis Sanchez "because of the fearless way he takes players on" and Spain's David Silva "because of his poise and simplicity, always picking out a team-mate", Diaz is one of six members of Ponce's squad to have already featured in the top flight at club level. This experience is obviously an advantage, but it took nothing away from the occasion in Santiago: "Although it helped to steady the nerves, representing your country at the Estadio Nacional is beyond comparison."
Despite his impact on this big stage, Diaz was self-critical afterwards, having missed a chance to win the match for the hosts when clean through on goal in the second half. He admitted to having replayed the incident in his mind several times: "I snatched at it. I didn't realise that the goalkeeper was virtually on the ground. I could have dinked it or let the ball run and finished it with my left foot," he said, as if there were nothing easier in the world.
He may have lacked a little composure in that instant, but Diaz's remarks make it clear that he and his team-mates are keeping cool heads about what the rest of the tournament may hold in store: "We're just taking it one game at a time. We're convinced that's the best way to approach what's to come, wherever it may take us."