Two snapshots starring Gabriel Mazuela perfectly sum up the nature of Chile's path to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Round of 16 on home soil.
The first is Mazuela's frenzied celebration after bagging his first strike of the tournament to put his side 2-1 up against USA, who had taken the lead. "More than just ending a three-game scoring drought, with that goal I got eight really difficult months off my chest," he told FIFA.com. As one of seven 'survivors' from the squad that finished last at the South American U-17 Championship in March, that effort and the subsequent 4-1 victory had special significance for Mazuela: "It's about more than just proving a point, but getting through to the next round shows everyone that this isn't a bad generation of players and we're capable of good things."
The second telling image is of Mazuela, the youngest player in the Chile team, in tears after the final whistle, looking every inch the 16-year-old kid that he is. "What happened at the South American Championship was a tough learning curve," he explained. "We suffered personally, but it also made us stronger in adversity. There were voices saying that we couldn't cut it. Now I feel like we've won people over and, in particular, conquered our own demons. Maybe that's where the tears at the end came from. It was a release."
*Thinking outside and inside the box
*In footballing terms, the importance of the team's No9 finally breaking his duck cannot be overstated. "Everyone knows that forwards are there to score the goals. Granted, it's a cliché, but it's not a joke. In the first two matches I made the mistake of tiring myself out by running around too much outside the area, trying to win back possession. In the third one I focused on the box and it worked out for me," said the attacker, whose childhood idol was Marcelo Salas, whom he saw play aged just five.
Nevertheless, Mazuela was pretty much operating as a right winger in the latter stages of the USA game and it was after a foray down this flank that he provided the assist for the fourth goal. "The coaches emphasise that nothing is set in stone in football, so you've got to be ready to contribute from wherever necessary. We've all got to show patience, calmness and self-sacrifice."
Running the channels in the manner of two of his other heroes, Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez, is one of several ways Mazuela is dealing with the sizeable handicap facing him in this tournament, with many opposition defenders towering over him. "Here in Chile I tend to be one of the tallest in my age group, but it's been different in the World Cup," admitted the 5'9 starlet. "My game isn't overly based on physicality, but having to use your body is inevitable. I've learned a few tricks, but the key is to be sure of yourself when you're vying for the ball."
*Born on the outskirts of Santiago and a member of the academy at capital club Universidad de Chile since 2011, Mazuela appears to have his dream career all mapped out: "First I'd like to play for La U [as Universidad are nicknamed], but I don't want to just be a run-of-the-mill player there. I'd love to go down in the club's history."
"Since I'm a big fan of River Plate because of Salas, after that I'd like to play for them. Then maybe I'd try to go to Ajax, Atletico Madrid or an English club like Liverpool, Manchester City or Arsenal. I've always had a soft spot for storied clubs," he went on, smiling.
Despite allowing his mind to wander briefly for the benefit of FIFA.com, Mazuela remains firmly focused on the here and now, meaning there is only one team looming large in his thoughts: Mexico, the hosts' last-16 opponents and one of just five countries who are still unbeaten in the competition. "We played them in a friendly before the World Cup and we drew 1-1. We know them well, but obviously that means they know us well too," he said.
Mazuela signed off by stressing that he and his team-mates are not content with just having made it this far: "Playing in a World Cup at the age of 17 is special, all the more so in your homeland. What other Chileans have the chance to experience something like this? What's more, we're a nation who are hungry to advance and gain recognition. We'll always strive for more."