Monday 25 September 2017, 19:32

Early-riser Fernandez ready to lead Paraguay challenge

  • Worked on his mother’s fruit and vegetable stall at the age of 12

  • Now captains the U-17 side that will run out at India 2017

  • Though a defender, he scored three goals in the qualifiers 

As far as Roberto Fernandez is concerned, it is no sacrifice having to train at 2 o’clock in the morning, have lunch four hours later and then dinner at four in the afternoon. And that is what he and his Paraguay team-mates have been doing lately in preparation for the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.

“It was a sacrifice getting up early in the morning to go to the fruit market, I can tell you that,” said the young central defender, who, at the age of 12, had to accompany his mother Otilia to the fruit market in the town of Concepcion because money was tight.

“We’d get up at four in the morning and then walk to get the fresh fruit and vegetables,” the Albirrojita captain told “She chose the produce and I’d help her load it right up. Then at midday I’d go off to school.”

There was only one other thing he had any energy left over for: “Kicking the ball around till night fell, with my brothers or my friends.”

At the time he played as a wide forward, a No11. A gifted left-footer who cut his teeth on the rough patches of ground that passed for football pitches in his neighbourhood, Fernandez then changed position: “I went to a football academy and they put me at full-back and then in the centre of defence. And at the age of 13 I joined my club, Guarani, of Asuncion.”

Fact file

  • Full name: Roberto Fernandez Urbieta

  • Date of birth: 7 June 2000

  • What skills would he like to have from other defenders? “To head like Sergio Ramos, bring the ball out like Mats Hummels and mark like John Terry.”

  • Role models in Paraguay: Paulo Da Silva and Gustavo Gomez

Finding his feet in the capital was not easy: “Concepcion is 500 kilometres away from Asuncion and I missed it. I cried a lot and the only reason I didn’t go back was because my parents said football was my big opportunity.”

In recognition, Fernandez knows exactly where the money will be going when he signs his first professional contract: “On a nice house for them.”

The experience made the Paraguay U-17 skipper who he is today. A quiet man off the pitch, he is a born organiser on it and shrewd enough to give this clever answer to “I don’t know how we’d rank on a scale of 1 to 10, but the preparations have been excellent. The team’s in really good shape.”

So what are he and his team-mates talking about in the lead-up to the competition? “How important this tournament is for Paraguayan football, but also for our lives and careers,” he replied.

The stat 3 - As well as being the number on his shirt, three were the number of goals Fernandez scored in the South American U-17 Championship, all of them crucial and all of them in the final phase of the competition. Fernandez was on the end of a fine move to score his side’s second in the 2-2 draw with Brazil; headed in the second in another 2-2 draw, this time against Ecuador; and nodded in the first in the 3-1 defeat of Venezuela that took Paraguay to the world finals.

Did you know?  Fernandez has already trained with Paraguay’s senior team. “It was before the Russia 2018 qualifier against Uruguay. I was in the showers after our training session and one of Arce’s assistant came to get me because they needed a defender. We’d already done some training with the seniors, but I was very proud all the same.”

So how did it go? “I just shadowed them more than anything. They were working on dead-ball situations and playing the ball out from the back. I didn’t do much defending but I was amazed by the speed and pace of play. It was a great experience.”

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