- Ecuador preparing for round of 16 match against Italy
- Mina the top scorer in his team with two goals and one assist
- Memories of Poland 2019
Not so long ago, the headline of an article on FIFA.com declared: "Mina sparks historic finish for Ecuador". When we asked Johan Mina about this at the team hotel in Vitoria, he looked puzzled for a moment, and even the Ecuadorian FA’s press officer seemed confused. Historic finish? Ecuador? The South Americans are preparing to play their last 16 match against Italy at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™ and are hoping that it will still be some time before their campaign comes to a conclusion.
To clarify, La Tricolor collected a bronze medal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland just a few months ago. The entire country enthusiastically celebrated the triumph of coach Jorge Celico’s young charges. This rapturous reaction came as no surprise, as it was the first medal Ecuador have ever won at a FIFA tournament. Johan’s namesake Richard Mina scored the game’s only goal in extra time to secure victory. Their opponents that day? Italy.
"Of course I followed the tournament and watched the matches at home," Johan recalled with a smile to FIFA.com. "It was a fantastic achievement for our country. Ecuador lost 1-0 to Italy in the group stages, but we won when it really mattered. It would be great if we could do the same thing here in Brazil."
Mina and his compatriots will face their Azzurrini counterparts on Thursday. "It’s a strong team and we know what is expected of us."
Unlike Richard, a defender ordinarily tasked with stopping goals, Johan is responsible for scoring them. He was the leading scorer in the South American qualifying competition with six strikes to his name, and is already the highest-scoring player for his team in Brazil with two goals and one assist.
It was Mina who netted the winner four minutes from time to secure a 3-2 victory in his side’s decisive third group match against Hungary and book Ecuador’s place in the last 16.
Rumour has it that several top European clubs are already circling the young starlet, including Barcelona. "I read about that online, but nobody has approached me personally," he said. "Reading that kind of thing makes you feel proud." It is no secret that numerous scouts operate at international tournaments. Many promising talents have been unearthed at FIFA’s youth competitions before going on to have successful careers at the pinnacle of the sport.
One of them is Mina’s idol and current The Best FIFA Men’s Player Lionel Messi, who won the U-20 World Cup with Argentina in 2005. "He has fantastic skills that no other footballer has," he said. "Every young player dreams of playing in Europe, including me. It would be incredible to train and line up alongside Messi in Barcelona."
If Ecuador can clear their European hurdle this week, hosts Brazil await them in the next round after defeating Chile in their all-South American last-16 encounter. "That would be an absolute highlight," Mina said, "but first we need to focus on Italy and then we’ll see what happens."