Colombia have a new leader: Meet Juan Fernando Quintero, a classic No. 10
NOTE: This is translated from an original piece for ESPN Argentina.
MOSCOW -- In the middle of the match against Poland, Jose Pekerman did something out of the ordinary: He cried out to Juan Fernando Quintero: "You are great, you are great."
(In Spanish, Pekerman actually said: "Sos un crack, sos un crack." In Latin American soccer, the use of several English language words is still very common.)
Pekerman's praise for Colombia's best player of the World Cup group stage was not only a means of motivation, but also the exclamation of a fact. The reply he received was even more striking. Far from blushing, Quintero answered: "Yes, but there's still a long way to go." That's one of Russia 2018's most influential players for you. For him, the sky is the limit.
In an interview with ESPN.com, Quintero made it clear that his only goal in Russia is to make history. He won't settle for anything less. He doesn't have any secondary goals; he only wants the biggest prize. That's how he talks and how he plays.
"There's still a long way to go, and we have the quality and the character to accomplish anything that we set out to do," claimed Colombia's No.20, one of the 10 most outstanding players of the tournament so far.
A true number 10 -- that's Quintero's position. In a time of creative No. 5s, box-to-box midfielders, offensive wing-back and more, one of the World Cup's best players is an old-fashioned playmaker, a selfless pass-first player who comes to life with the ball at his feet.
Creating for others is part of his DNA and he shows it every chance he gets.
ESPN.com: What motivates you to play like this?
Quintero: I have to thank the Lord because I have lived through difficult times. I'm motivated by the fact that I'm alive, that I can be a role model for people and for the children, who always expect something good from you. That is my greatest motivation. I want people to know me for what I make them feel. My heart is with God. He knows what I've lived through and how I've suffered. Soccer is giving me what I've given Him.
ESPN.com: You are one of the tournament's best players by every measure. How do you feel about that?
Quintero: Those are statistics made by people or by the media, and I appreciate them. It motivates me to go on but the most important thing is that Colombia wins, because this isn't about [Quintero] winning -- it is about Colombia winning. I am very pleased by what I've been doing. I worked hard and made sacrifices to achieve this. And there's more to come.
ESPN.com: What's the difference between the Quintero who played at Brazil 2014 and the Quintero in Russia this summer?
Quintero: It's difficult to make a comparison. In Brazil I was younger and now I'm more mature. For better or for worse, I have the experience of the last World Cup, and now I've been doing things right.
ESPN.com: The World Cup started off well for you, but not for Colombia ...
Quintero: The happiness of that day against Japan was incomplete because the goal meant nothing. It was a match from which we couldn't draw conclusions after playing most of the game with 10 men. But our will prevailed and we made a great effort, and we did the same throughout the rest of the group stage.
ESPN.com: You are the first Colombian player to score in two World Cups. How does that make you feel?
Quintero: Those are statistics. We simply work and prepare ourselves to score goals and show our best qualities both as a team and as individuals. I'm happy for the statistics but they didn't amount to anything.
ESPN.com: What were the keys to rebounding against Poland?
Quintero: The team makes the difference when it shows its quality and stature. We know what we have and that's why we achieved a key win. We suffered a lot after losing against Japan but that loss made us stronger. It was a nice chance to show what we've been doing, how we've prepared ourselves. It was our best match so far.
ESPN.com: It was also the best moment of your partnership with James...
Quintero: That was also special. The most important thing is that we were able to help our country and on the field, we tried to play naturally. We need to play responsibly but also have fun. His exit against Senegal was tough because he's been playing really well. He is decisive for our team, a key player and one of our leaders. We all have to recover. We are sad but hopefully everything goes well.
ESPN.com: After James' replacement you took over playmaking duties and it didn't weigh you down.
Quintero: Why would it? I try to do what I know how to do out on the field to help my team. And I have the backing of my teammates, which helps keep the weight off. The pressure is something mental and to me, it doesn't exist.
ESPN.com: What did you tell Pekerman after the goal against Senegal?
Quintero: With a goal already and knowing Japan's result, we needed to close [it out]. We know that in World Cups you must be attentive all the time. Against Japan we conceded a set-piece goal but against Senegal we had a better performance. Things went well; that's soccer.
ESPN.com: Do you believe that your best quality is your passing ability?
Quintero: It's one of my qualities and fortunately it is [working] for Colombia. That's the most important thing. I was able to do it with [Radamel] Falcao against Poland and with Yerry [Mina] against Senegal. They were more important because they managed to score.
ESPN.com: Your big season began in River and reached its highest point in the World Cup?
Quintero: We shouldn't say "highest" yet. Each day you learn more and this is just one more experience. I'm living what I wanted to live and I'm still hoping for more special things. I have to prepare myself for whatever comes my way, and we know that soccer gives back beautiful things.
ESPN.com: How do you expect England to play in the last 16?
Quintero: We've already played three tough opponents and what is to come will be even harder. The teams that are still standing in the World Cup are the best and anything could happen.
Quintero is the man who creates play for Colombia and who believes that anything is possible. His words go in line with what he does on the field in every game: "You can't know if this is something that you will live again, so you have to enjoy it and make the most out of it."