- Penaloza dedicates all his goals to his deceased brother
- He has scored three times to help Colombia reach the knockout stages
- “Individual titles don’t interest me, just the team,” he says
For most players, the privilege of appearing in a FIFA World Cup and defending the colours of their national team are motivations enough to give everything on the pitch. For Colombia star Juan Penaloza, there was another source of inspiration behind his efforts against USA at the Dr. DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, where a draw would have left his side waiting to discover their group stage fate at India 2017.
Standing over a free-kick to the left of the area midway through the second half, Penaloza seemed to have little chance of finding the net. The angle was tight, but the No11 unleashed a fierce effort that sailed beyond the goalkeeper via the underside of the crossbar – before he raced towards the bench to fetch a shirt emblazoned with a photograph.
An unhappy memory
Penaloza’s goal put Colombia back on top in a game they eventually won 3-1, and afterwards, he explained the significance of that photo in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “It’s my brother, who is deceased,” he said. “His death affected me a lot. I owe him everything.”
Indeed, the goalscorer’s very presence in India can be traced back to his sibling, who introduced Penaloza to the game at the age of five. “After every goal, I raise my hands to the sky and think about him,” he explained. “He gives me the strength and motivation to improve and make our dream come true.”
Playing for the team
The dream looked to be in peril after Colombia kicked off with a loss to Ghana, but Penaloza responded with both goals in a 2-1 victory over India next time out. He then followed up his free-kick effort against USA with an assist for Deiber Caicedo, as Colombia secured second place in their group and a berth in the last 16 – leaving him joint second in the tournament scoring charts. He is now well placed to challenge for top spot, but insists he has other objectives. “That’s not my main preoccupation here,” he said. “I always think about the team first and what we can do at these finals. The individual awards will maybe come later, but I’ll never focus on that.
“My two goals against India would have been useless without the three points,” he added. “Against USA, we got our confidence back after the second goal. We kept on working and scored a third, which allowed us to finish second. Our efforts as a team are what’s essential.”
Buoyed by their superb display against the Stars and Stripes, Colombia are now intent on continuing their adventure – but how far do they hope to go? “As far as possible,” said Penaloza. “We’re going to rest today, and tomorrow, we’ll leave Mumbai. After that, we’ll think about our next match. We don’t want to rush anything and lose focus. Instead of getting ahead of ourselves, we need to take things step by step.”
From one Juan to another
Capable of shooting with both feet, hitting the target while on the move and coping with pressure, the youngster looks to have a bright future – as the scouts from Europe’s clubs have surely noted. “My model among other Colombian players is Juan Cuadrado,” Penaloza said, when asked to outline his ambitions. “I think I have lots of similar characteristics to him.”
The Juventus winger has forged a career at the highest level, so does his namesake now hope to follow in his footsteps? “Yes, but I don’t know what God has in store for me. I will thank him whatever my future turns out to be.”