Alessia Valle Norero and Juan Carlos Burbano got together to talk about football a few days ago. The subject is not strange for either of them. Burbano holds an eternal distinction: he is a football legend in Ecuador. She earned that status as a member of the group of players of the National Team that obtained the first qualification for a FIFA World Cup for the country: that of Japan-South Korea 2002. While her interviewer is a player of the renowned Club Ñañas , in the sub-16 category.
Retired as a player, Burbano has stood out for analyzing football in depth, but with simple language. Today he is coordinator of the lower divisions of the Liga Deportiva Universitaria, coach at the Quito Tennis and Golf Club, and teacher at colleges and universities. Alessia Valle spoke with the former midfielder for El Nacional, Universidad Católica and La Tricolor. “Juan Carlos Burbano taught me, for a long time, to dream big,” says the young soccer player from Ñañas. This was asked by the student from the American School of Quito.
What did you feel when you wore the national team’s shirt in the first World Cup in Ecuador?
One of the most beautiful moments of my life has been putting on the national team shirt. Many times I close my eyes and think it was a dream, but it was a movie that I did live. Listening to the anthem of Ecuador, sung by all the fans, moves you very much. But the reality is that your responsibility is great and you must play your best.
How were you received in Japan, how was the arrival?
They welcomed us wonderfully. At the airport there were about 100 children with Ecuadorian flags and they shouted: “Yes, we can!” It was beautiful. On the way to the hotel there were many people in the streets, greeting us. We left Ecuador a month before the 2002 World Cup and went to the United States and Spain to play friendlies. We were among the first teams to arrive in Japan. The first days we were in Tottori, to adapt. Then we went to the cities where we were supposed to play, which were Miyagi, Yokohama and Sapporo. The World Cup final was held in Yokohama and there we beat Croatia 1-0.
What impacted you in your experience in Japan?
In Japan I had very nice experiences. The children went to training and since they couldn’t go down to the field, they hung some leaves, on cords, for us to sign autographs. In one of the trainings, a 5-year-old girl named Akari, who was with her mother, gave me an origami. I was very surprised by the gesture and the next day I gave him some pieces of balsa. The day we were leaving Tottori, the girl, with her mother, went to the airport. She gave me a package containing a beautiful kimono. I, at that moment, took off the national team shirt and gave it to Akari. I was lucky enough to return to Japan, after four years, to train children and Akari was waiting for me at the airport with her mother; We even train together.
What was the diet, how did they train? Did you do anything in particular?
The food was good, they gave us a lot of rice, meats and vegetables. Our doctor controlled the food they gave us. I had a pain in my knee but I didn’t say anything to avoid being sent back to Ecuador. In my room I did exercises to strengthen the muscle so that the ligament did not hurt. We did exercises of coordination, definition, crosses, shots and many passing rounds. In the hotel we went to the thermal pools that helped us recover quickly.
Against which rival did you feel most inspired to play for the National Team and why?
In 1997, my girlfriend had a photo of Paolo Maldini, an Italian player, in her house. In 2001 I was called up to the National Team and we qualified for the 2002 World Cup. I was lucky to be part of the 23 players called up for that World Cup. In the draw, Ecuador was placed in the same group as Italy (along with Mexico and Croatia). We lost to them 2-0, in the debut. Paolo Maldini was one of the players on that Italian team. I was lucky enough to take a picture with him and show it to my girlfriend.
If you could play a World Cup again, what would you improve on?
I would do better to be more daring when kicking on goal. You are afraid of failing because you are worried about criticism, but you learn from mistakes. We must trust ourselves and that is how we can improve.
What life lesson did football teach you? Did it make you grow as a person?
Football taught me to overcome adversity. Life is made of good and bad days. Do not give up. That is a great test in life and in sport. You have to know how to win and lose. By losing, one gets discouraged; but you have to face and improve so that it does not happen again. The (good) attitude is fundamental in life. You have to give thanks and always see the positive side of things.
How do you see the Selection for the 2022 World Cup?
It is a Selection (Ecuadorian) of the best, perhaps the best of all. The players are very young and very talented. Many of them already play in Europe. In the 2002 Selection, many of the members were over 30 years old and had more experience. The current team has a different mentality. Before it was believed that it was impossible to reach a World Cup; Now they not only want to qualify, they also want to consecrate themselves. The mentality is very winning. DT Gustavo Alfaro has managed to form a team in which everyone is equal and important. Today they experience what we experienced (20 years ago). It is a group of friends who respect each other. They help each other and are supportive.
What do you think of the group that played Ecuador?
It’s a difficult group (A), like all of them, but playing against the hosts, Qatar, in the opening match is a special motivation. Almost the entire planet will be watching this meeting. There will be a lot of nerves in both teams, but the pressure for the locals will be greater. They have a commitment to their people to win by being local. Ecuador can take advantage of that, in the mental part. It is extremely important to win the first match of a World Cup. Starting well gives you a lot of confidence, security and raises self-esteem. The future of Ecuador may depend on this party. Senegal have very strong, powerful, athletic and fast players: they are similar to us, but the difference may be in technique and skill. The Netherlands also have a very young team and they play very good football. Against them it will be the most difficult game, but I think the Tri could give a surprise. (D)