- Uruguay’s goalkeeper has gone 270 minutes without conceding
- Taking part at a FIFA World Cup is a childhood dream come true
- His biggest fan is a six-year-old boy in his homeland
“They’re just numbers,” said Santiago Mele with a smile when FIFA.com presented him with statistics from the group stage. As one of just two goalkeepers (along with Venezuela’s Wuilker Farinez) yet to concede a goal after 270 minutes of play, the Uruguayan has every reason to be proud of his performances so far at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017. His eight saves also made a vital contribution to his country’s march into the Round of 16. “The only thing that’s important to me is that we’re playing well and have made it into the knockout stages – and I have my team-mates’ defensive efforts to thank for that,” he added modestly.
Mele has been taking up his “favourite position” between the posts since the age of six and is aiming to emulate his three heroes: Fernando Muslera, Samir Hamdanovic and Jan Oblak. “They’re three fantastic goalkeepers that I can learn a lot from,” explained the 19-year-old, determined to constantly improve his own game and present himself as a highly dependable tower of strength. “I try to radiate confidence, talk to my team-mates a lot, and motivate them.”
Having already enjoyed his first taste of Uruguay’s Primera Division for his club Centro Atletico Fenix, the shot-stopper is keen to draw additional inspiration from the opportunity to step onto the world stage. “Taking part in this World Cup is a childhood dream come true for me,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “I’m enjoying every minute of being here. Korea is a wonderful country, I really like it here.”
The Uruguayan No1 has been sharing his impressions of the tournament with his biggest fan back home – six-year-old Mateo. “I know him through a friend of my mother,” Mele explained. “He wanted to meet me because he’s a goalkeeper too, so we met up and trained together one day. We’ve been in regular contact ever since and send each other video messages,” he said. “Mateo has also been along to the stadium to watch me play live. He follows our games on television and sends me videos commenting on my performances.”
Mateo will no doubt be following his idol’s exploits in the upcoming Round of 16 encounter with Saudi Arabia from the other side of the world. “We’re really looking forward to this match,” Mele said. “It will be a tough task. We played Saudi Arabia in a friendly before the tournament, and they have good players. We’ll make sure we prepare properly for this challenge.”
After an impressive group stage, in which they finished as Group D winners, Uruguay can go into the game full of confidence. Coach Fabian Coito’s young charges are demonstrating the exact same qualities that enabled them to win the South American U-20 Championship in February. “We’re a determined unit with strong players in every position,” Mele explained. “We think about one game at a time and take each step as it comes. We want to achieve something great at the end of our journey, and of course, that means we’re dreaming about the title.”
He may yet be able to send little Mateo a video from the trophy presentation in Suwon.