• Anibal Vega turned Paraguay’s match with New Zealand on its head with a three-minute brace
  • It was his first appearance at India 2017, having missed the opening game against Mali
  • Cristiano Ronaldo is the young striker’s role model

As the half-time whistle of the Group B clash between Paraguay and New Zealand rang out in Navi Mumbai’s Dr. DY Patil Stadium, the South American players trudged back to the changing rooms with their heads bowed after two own goals by their captain Alexis Duarte had given the Oceania side a 2-1 lead.

The resilient Paraguayans managed to turn things around in the second half, however, securing a 4-2 victory that sends them through to the knockout stages of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. Their hero of the hour was half-time substitute Anibal Vega, who pounced twice within three minutes for a sensational double that rescued his team and gave his coach a not unpleasant selection headache ahead of their next match.

Once the celebrations in the dressing room had died down, the clinical super sub took a few minutes to discuss the entertaining encounter with FIFA.com. “Yes, it was a tough match,” he said. “At half-time, our coach asked us to keep our composure and get our focus back. When he told me to get ready, he just gave me some simple instructions: ‘Don’t rush things, and play your usual game. Keep calm and use your touches wisely in their half’.”

Aiming high
Smiling broadly, he recalled his timely brace. “It was absolutely fantastic to score twice in such a short space of time,” he said. “I did something similar with Palmeiras’ youth team – I scored the goals in pretty much the same way. But doing it here, at this level, is really quite extraordinary.”

Vega has signed a professional contract with the Brazilian club, and he has ambitions of climbing as high as possible up the football ladder. “It’s always good to think about the future. All players want to improve, technically speaking, so they can contribute to their national team.”

When asked about current players he admires, the Paraguayan forward had no hesitation when responding. “Cristiano Ronaldo is my role model,” he said. “In my opinion, he’s a complete player, and the best in the world. I hope I can reach his level one day.”

Vega did not take part in his country’s opening victory over Mali, and had to wait until the second period of their follow-up fixture to show what he could do. Now that qualification for the next round has been secured courtesy of his memorable cameo appearance, Paraguay coach Gustavo Morinigo may well provide him with an extended run in the team.

Vega, meanwhile, preferred to conclude the interview on a level-headed note: “There’s still a long road ahead of us. We came here to compete. It’s just the first step and we want more. For that, we’ll need to keep working hard to achieve our goals.”

To the sound of laughter and Paraguayan music, Vega returned to the team bus, where the temporary party was set to continue, with the ecstatic super sub at the heart of the celebrations.