Salvadorans safe in Portillo’s hands
Some goalkeepers are known for their eccentricities. Take the likes of Jorge Campos, Rene Higuita and Hugo Gatti, who all had a knack of putting a smile on the faces of their team-mates and exciting the fans.
There are others, however, who do things differently, cool-headed custodians who focus on getting the job done and give off an aura of calm when they take up position between the posts.
El Salvador are fortunate enough to have one such safe pair of hands in the experienced Dagoberto Portillo, who is in the form of his life with club side Luis Angel Firpo at the age of 32. So secure is he, in fact, that he has now made the national team’s No1 spot his own.
Dedicated and hard-working, he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his own aspirations and the team’s goals as they steel themselves for the start of the second group phase in the CONCACAF qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Though the start of that phase on 8 June is still a few weeks away, Portillo and his colleagues in the El Salvador team are already hard at work, determined to leave nothing to chance, as the keeper explained: “Motivation is high in the team.
“We’ve just completed our fitness work and we’ve been hard at it for the last three weeks. The 19 players who’ll be travelling to the USA have been selected and my name is on the list, which I’m very pumped up and proud about.”
La Selecta’s first opponents are Costa Rica, with whom they have fought many a close duel in recent times. Up next are regional powerhouses Mexico, followed by an unknown quantity in Guyana. “We know the first two well, and every time we face them they come up with ten per cent that’s new. Aside from that, we know how they play,” explained Portillo, running the rule over their three group rivals.
“Our coach Ruben Israel has also got scouts around the world, which means we can keep close tabs on them. Things are different with Guyana, but there’s no way we can take them for granted. They knocked out a big name in Trinidad and Tobago and they deserve to have got this far.”
As the gloveman went on to confirm, confidence is high in the side, despite the status of their upcoming opponents: “Like all the people of El Salvador, we can see ourselves reaching the final six-team group.
“We’re confident because we’ve got a good side, with a good blend of old hands and new faces from the tem that contested Olympic qualifying. Our mindset is to go and collect all nine points at home and seal qualification away from home.”
After spending a long time in the regional wilderness, El Salvador have experienced something of a resurgence in the last five years, the main reason for which is their mental approach, as Portillo explained: “It’s all in the head. Our last few coaches have all been convinced that you have to be mature, humble and keep your feet on the ground if you want to win.
“Like El Profesor Israel says, we’re all human beings. We all have two legs and a heart, including us, and there’s no reason why we should feel inferior to anyone.”
A little bit of magic
Humility and maturity are two words that can easily be applied to Portillo, who, after a long career in the national league, is a late arrival to La Selecta.
“I’m one of the oldest players in the side, but it’s only recently that I’ve had the chance to get into the team,” he said. “That doesn’t mean to say I think I’m the first-choice keeper, anything but. El Profesor has put his faith in me and as long as he continues to do so I won’t let him down, not for me personally but for the team, which is what matters most.”
Asked to name his goalkeeping role models, Portillo looked beyond ultra-reliable types such as Peter Schmeichel and Walter Zenga and opted for a much more acrobatic practitioner of the art: “Sergio Goycochea is the keeper I’ve always admired more than anyone. I saw him when I was a boy at Italy 1990. Among the current crop I like Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes, but the one I’ve always modelled myself on is Goycochea.”
Rounding off our conversation, Portillo cited another extrovert, namely former national team star and playmaker Jorge 'Mágico' Gonzalez, whom he described as the team’s secret weapon in their push for a place at Brazil 2014: “We’re proud to have him on our coaching staff and he motivates us a lot.
“He shows the outfield players tricks and gives them advice. He’s like a kid almost. He sees a ball and he can’t help playing with it. He’s the guy we look up to and it’s an honour to have him as part of the team.”
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