Leading marksman in the 2012/13 Portuguese Liga and leading the scoring chart this term too, Jackson Martinez’s eye for goal is clearly beyond doubt. Ready and determined to unleash that killer instinct on the FIFA World Cup™ stage, Martinez also has silverware aplenty to aim for with club side Porto prior to Brazil 2014.
In fact, the Colombia striker could barely have made a more immediate impact on the Portuguese football scene. Snapped up ahead of the 2012/13 campaign from Mexican outfit Jaguares, Martinez needed just one match to fire Os Dragões to a trophy – scoring the only goal of the game in the Portuguese Super Cup. The goals have not stopped flowing since either, with Martinez’s start to life in the azul e branca jersey echoing that of Colombia’s principal icon Radamel Falcao.
It was Os Portistas who first loosed El Tigre on European defences and the now Monaco striker returned that faith with goals in industrial quantities. Indeed, his prolific displays played a major role in Porto’s all-conquering 2010/11 season – one in which they won every possible trophy, including the UEFA Europa League.
On the day when Porto play the second leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final away to Sevilla, FIFA.com brings you an exclusive interview with Martinez, who has every faith he can continue to emulate the exploits of his fellow* Cafetero* front-runner.
FIFA.com: Jackson, Porto are 1-0 up from the first leg, yet you are set to miss out on the return in Sevilla through suspension. Does that make the team’s task harder? Jackson Martinez: The team doesn’t depend on me, it’s about how we play as a unit. It was important to win and keep a clean sheet at home, as we can breathe a little easier during the match in Spain. [Nabil] Ghilas has been playing well and I’m sure he’ll rise to the challenge [of replacing me].
Porto clinched the 2010/11 Europa League thanks to a goal from Falcao in the final against Braga. Could you see yourself doing the same?
To get the chance to repeat that feat, we have to reach the final first. Of course it’d be a dream come true to get to the final and win it, but it’s really important not to think of just myself. Porto are always stronger when we pull together rather than playing as individuals, though I do feel this team could go very far.
This national squad is making history. I think we’ve got a wider variety of players and talent than we did at the 1994 World Cup.
Staying on the subject of Falcao, he’s not given up hope of recovering from his knee injury Iin time for Brazil 2014. Have you spoken to him since it happened?
I’ve spoken to him several times since. The injury was a real shock, but as soon as I found out I called him to ask how he was feeling. He came across as really well, really strong and extremely determined to get back to fitness. To be honest, the way he’s going about his recovery is very impressive. He’s always been very dedicated, he’s worked very hard and this is just a phase that he’ll come out the other side of.
Do you think he’ll be fit in time to be selected for Brazil 2014?
Yes, I do. In circumstances like these, you have to put your faith in both medical professionals and God’s will. All of us Colombians are willing him to be able to play at the World Cup, but first and foremost he needs to be totally recovered and that’s always what matters most.
Given that Colombia haven’t appeared at a World Cup since France 1998, what are your expectations for Brazil 2014?
This World Cup gives us a massive opportunity to try and take Colombia to the very top. After putting in so much effort in qualifying and after so many years working towards this, we can’t let ourselves get fixated on thinking we’re going to reach the Final. We must take things step by step and, if we do, I’m sure we’ll get good results. At a World Cup, winning your opening game is always important too.
Having been drawn in a group alongside Greece, Côte d’Ivoire and Japan, is it hard to pick out the favourites to qualify for the Round of 16?
I think that it’s one of the most evenly matched groups at this World Cup. Ivory Coast have very experienced players with a lot of quality, Japan are always at the World Cup and cover every blade of grass, and Greece are tactically very strong. All the teams are in with a shout of reaching the last 16, but we mustn’t think that we can only aspire to getting through the group phase. When you’re at a World Cup, the first thing you say to yourself should be, 'We don't know how far we’re going to go, but we do know how far we want to go'.
Many experts have stated this could be the strongest ever generation of Colombian footballers. Do you agree, or do you feel that puts too much pressure on the squad?
We can’t stop people talking about us, nor should we duck away from positive opinions. This national squad, with a new generation of players, is making history. Nowadays nearly all of us are playing in Europe and I think we’ve got a wider variety of players and talent than we did at the 1994 World Cup, when this pressure was on them too. But we can’t afford to get too carried away with what people say. Of course we want to have a great tournament, but we mustn’t let ourselves get weighed down by external pressures.
On a personal note, how much will it mean to you if, as expected, you are called up to the World Cup squad?
It would be the biggest step in my career. It is what everybody says, of course, but playing at a World Cup really is a childhood dream of mine and one I hope comes true in Brazil. Having watched them from so far away on television, now it feels like I’m getting closer.
In your view, who are the favourites to lift the Trophy?
Spain and Germany above all, because they’re always so strong, while it’s never wise to write off Italy – they always find their best form at major tournaments. Portugal are very strong too and the fact they had to go through the play-offs shouldn’t take anything away from them. On the contrary, it might mean the players are even more motivated come the finals.
How about host nation Brazil, are they not in with a chance?
Oops, I forgot about Brazil! As well as playing really well, they’ve got some spectacular players… So, in fact, I’d say that in my view Brazil are favourites for the title.
One final question: you’re battling it out for the league top scorer’s honours with another Colombian, Fredy Montero of Sporting Lisbon. Are you surprised he’s not in the national squad?
The fact he was playing in the USA made it quite difficult for him to be regularly selected for the national squad. It comes down to coaching decisions, which are never easy to make of course, and the Colombia coaching staff have assembled a strong squad with a solid core. That said, there’s no doubt Fredy’s got enough ability to be in the national team. But it comes down to [Jose] Pekerman, who’s the main reason behind our success, to make the decisions. He’s got World Cup experience already and we’ve got 100 per cent faith in him.