- Jose Cifuentes opened the scoring against USA
- His powerful shot helped Ecuador reach the semi-finals
- “They told me I didn’t have the right build for a footballer"
It was in the 30th minute of Ecuador’s FIFA U-20 World Cup quarter-final against the USA that the lightning bolt struck: Jose Cifuentes drifted in from the left, looked up and let fly a powerful right-footed shot that left American goalkeeper David Ochoa with no chance.
That spectacular strike brought to an end a surprisingly ineffective opening half-hour for the reigning South American champions, who had dominated possession but had made several poor decisions and uncharacteristic errors in the final third. They would go on to win 2-1 and secure their maiden semi-final appearance.
“I’ve scored similar goals in the past, but that one is the best and the most important,” Cifuentes told FIFA.com with a broad smile on his face.
The young midfielder’s exploits at the tournament take on an even deeper meaning when the strong will and desire he has had to demonstrate thus far in his career are taken into account.
“When I was 13, they told me that I didn’t have the right build to become a footballer,” he said. “But I never gave up on my dream. I remained focused and just pursued my studies, knowing my time would come. I was never worried.”
In the end, he broke through at Universidad Catolica under the watchful eye of Jorge Celico, the current Ecuador U-20 coach.
Since 2017, the Ecuadorian has gradually established himself in the first-team squad at America de Quito, who were promoted to the top flight in 2018. This success, which likely surprised his doubters, would not have been possible without the backing of his loved ones.
“My family gave me the strength to keep going, because they always believed in me," he said. "They’ve always given me great support.”
One incident in particular from his childhood may well have propelled him down the path he finds himself on today.
“I’m not sure exactly what age I was, but I was too young to remember it clearly now,” he explained. “I must have been three or four. Apparently I disappeared and my mum found me in the middle of the road playing football with an empty water bottle, while shocked drivers passed by. That day, she realised something was going on.”
After seeing his eye-catching goal today, it is possible that his mother had exactly the same thought.
Cifuentes has played 449 minutes for La Tricolor in Poland; only Gonzalo Plata has played more (450). He is one of Ecuador's leaders both on the field and in the locker room.