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FIFA U-20 World Cup

Pereiro: Recoba liked my tattoo of him

Uruguay's Gaston Pereiro celebrates after scoring against Argentina

Gaston Pereiro has already seen several of his dreams come true in his young career. A league champion with his beloved Nacional of Montevideo, where he plies his trade next to lifelong idol Alvaro Recoba, the talented Uruguayan midfielder is now aiming to fulfil another career goal: to help La *Celeste *win the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015.

Talented, left-footed and unpredictable, Pereiro is one of those players who loves to be on the ball.  Adept at setting up team-mates for goalscoring opportunities, he has a gift for giving opposing players the slip and possesses a cool head in front of goal, qualities that have led to him being compared to the likes of Dutch striker Robin van Persie and even legendary Brazilian midfielder Socrates. Such comparisons brought a smile to the face of the 19-year-old, who acknowledged that he tries to model some of his game on the Manchester United forward, that he never saw the inimitable Brazilian play and that his role models are none other than* *Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

“I like to float around, probing away from left to right,” he said, in conversation with in Auckland, Uruguay’s base for the tournament. “What I like most is being on the ball, which is why I get into the box a lot. When I was a kid I played as a left-sided forward and then I dropped back a little. I’m happy when I’ve got the ball at my feet though.”

Uruguay have never won the U-20 World Cup, and Pereiro and his colleagues believe they have an excellent chance to go one better than their compatriots at Malaysia 1997 and Turkey 2013, who reached the final only to lose to Argentina and France respectively.

 “We’ve come here with the idea of winning the trophy,” Pereiro explained. “We’re feeling relaxed and we’ll take it one game at a time, with our feet firmly on the ground. Our first objective is to get past the group phase.”

As Pereiro accepted, however, advancing from Group D will be no easy task: “It’s a tough section. Mexico are always there or thereabouts and reached the final at the last U-17 World Cup. Serbia are a typically well organised European team and are tactically strong, and while we don’t know as much about Mali, we’re sure they’ll try to make the most of the physical strength that African teams are known for. We’ll need to be on our guard.”

With five goals, the teenager was the second-highest scorer and one of the outstanding performers at this year's South American U-20 Championship in Uruguay, the kind of form he would dearly love to reproduce in New Zealand.

“It goes without saying that I’d love to score as many goals as I got at the continental championships, though I’m not that bothered about statistics. I just try to help the team,” he said. “The team comes first and if I do things well, then it’s going to help us do better as a unit.”

*Recoba tattoo, Ronaldo dream *
Pereiro started out at Racing of Montevideo, with Nacional – one of the giants of Uruguayan football and the club he has supported since he was a boy – then coming in for him when he was 13.

Recalling the move, he said: “I was felt very self-conscious about going. I was happy at Racing and I really had my doubts about it.  My dad convinced me though. If he hadn’t, I probably would have stayed where I was. It’s just as well that I went."

After working his way through the ranks at El Bolso, he made his official first-team debut in the Copa Libertadores in January 2014 and scored his first league goal just four days later, against Racing, as fate would have it. He helped Nacional to the league title that same year, in which he first had the honour of sharing the dressing room with his hero Recoba.

One of the highpoints of Pereiro’s career to date came in a derby meeting with arch rivals Penarol during that successful league campaign, a game Nacional won thanks to a last-minute Recoba strike. So overcome was Pereiro by the emotion of it all, that he promised his idol he would have has face tattooed on his right arm.

Taking up the story, the youngster said: “He didn’t believe me to begin with, but a few days later I went and had it done and I showed it to him. He said I was crazy. He liked it, though, and he even joked that it looked nicer than he did.”

Pereiro has nothing but admiration for the former Inter Milan man: “I used to watch him on TV when I was a kid, and then, when they promoted me to the first team, there he was. It was a dream for me, to go from seeing him on TV to sharing a dressing room with him.

“We have a very good relationship and I try to learn everything I can from him. We often stay on after training to practise free-kicks. He shows me the technique and I try to do it the same way. The fact is, though, I don’t hit them like he does.”

A keen student of foreign clubs, Pereiro keeps a close eye on Argentina’s River Plate: “I watch them a lot. I like the way they play and I identify with it.”

His biggest dream, however, aside from helping Uruguay achieve glory in New Zealand, would be to pull on the famous white jersey of Real Madrid. Contemplating that prospect, he rounded off our chat by saying: “I hope I can make it there one day. And if I could play with Cristiano Ronaldo, then that would be the ultimate.”

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