It is never easy for a player to speak after a loss, let alone after getting knocked out in the quarter-finals on the world stage. You would expect this to ring even truer at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, given the challenges posed by this age and the inexperience on show, a far cry from the more professional trappings of the senior FIFA World Cup™.
Yet, despite Ecuador being well beaten by Mexico on Monday 2 November in Coquimbo, their captain Jose Gabriel Cevallos cut a relaxed figure in the mixed zone afterwards, smiling as he answered the questions put to him by FIFA.com. "I've told the lads that they should be proud. We've given everything we had throughout the tournament," the goalkeeper said. "We can have no regrets after everything we've done. We know how we've played here and we should be proud."
Granted, this teenager has an advantage over others in dealing with the disappointment of defeat that comes with the territory for any top-level footballer. Jose Gabriel is the second son of Jose Francisco Cevallos, a legendary Copa Libertadores-winning keeper who was capped 89 times for Ecuador and represented the country at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. "We talked a lot on the phone during the tournament. He told me that he and the rest of the family were very proud of me. He also said that the people in Ecuador were really proud of our efforts."
These were not the only words of encouragement that Cevallos Sr offered his son. "Above all he told me to enjoy myself because playing in a tournament like this one is a one-of-a-kind opportunity, the sort of thing that doesn't come round every day. He told me to stay focused and to have faith in my team-mates."
As it happens, Cevallos Jr arguably had his hands tied by his team-mates' failings against Mexico, whose goals – from a poorly defended and rashly conceded free-kick in the first half, and a penalty after the break – were both avoidable. "That's what made the difference today, our errors," he admitted. "We lacked precision and made mistakes. That's what Mexico forced us into, but we gave them the chance to beat us. We'd analysed them a lot in recent days, but our errors came in one-off incidents that you can't legislate for. That's football," he went on, shrugging his shoulders and clearly seeking to avoid the blame game.
Despite having to pack his bags earlier than he would have liked, the budding 17-year-old feels he is taking more than just his luggage away from Chile. "I've learned a lot during this tournament. For starters, it made me appreciate how many good players there are all over the world, playing for different teams with their own identity and culture. I set out to keep progressing and to show my worth on the world stage. Now I'm going to go back to Ecuador, keep working hard and concentrate on what I have to do to one day become a world champion," the shot-stopper concluded.