- El Salvador dreaming of a return to the World Cup
- Firm favourites to reach third round after emphatic first-leg win over St. Kitts and Nevis
- "We have that dream, and nothing is impossible"
Anyone following El Salvador’s recent games can not have failed to notice one name cropping up again and again on the scoresheet: that of David Antonio "Tony" Rugamas. Whether in the starting XI or coming off the bench, the 31-year-old striker has been finding the net with such regularity that fans of La Selecta are growing in excitement and hope during the Concacaf qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.
"Undoubtedly, I’m enjoying the best spell of my career. Performing like this for the national team is something you always dream about as a professional player. Everything about it is very different: when you play for your national team you have the entire country watching you. It’s something I’m enjoying immensely," he reveals in an exclusive chat with FIFA.com.
But while Rugamas cannot stop scoring at present, he has had to show a great deal of patience to get himself in this position.
"I started the first two games of the qualifying campaign and scored in each of them. Then we had a change of coach and the new boss, Hugo Perez, left me on the bench. Through it all, though, I stayed mentally strong and told myself I had to make the most of any playing time I got, even if it was only 15 or 20 minutes. You don’t need to start a game to score in it."
In the end, the player’s patience was rewarded, as his impressive stats attest. He has found the target in each of the last five qualifying games (racking up eight goals in total) and now finds himself back in the starting line-up.
Of course, Rugamas’ rich vein of form is also a reflection of El Salvador's fine recent form.
"I think the togetherness we have as a group has been transcendental for all of this. As a team, we’re also very tactically disciplined and organised; we all work together in defence and attack. No one thinks they’re special or not required to run their socks off; we all work equally hard. I think it’s a combination of all those things that has really helped us, because everyone's performance has improved considerably."
The results this improvement brought about now sees them strongly positioned to advance from Round 2 of Concacaf qualifying for the Qatar 2022™ and take their place in the eight-team final group phase.
After losing 4-0 at home in the first leg on Saturday, St. Kitts and Nevis will have their work cut out if they are to end the Salvadorans' nine-match unbeaten run when they meet for the return leg this Tuesday. On top of that, in eight of those nine fixtures, La Selecta kept clean sheets.
That said, Rugamas and his team-mates are taking nothing for granted, knowing full well that overconfidence could thwart their ambition. "We don't have that kind of mindset. The coach has already mentioned it a few times, so we’ll be treating this match like any other and not thinking about our sizable first-leg advantage. We want to go out and conclude the tie definitively."
World Cup nostalgia
Next year, when Qatar 2022™ takes place, it will be the 40th anniversary of El Salvador’s last appearance on the world stage. Nothing would please the Central Americans more than ending that drought.
"Our collective ambition is to reach the World Cup again. We share a desire to make history and have our names associated with a return to the World Cup. We have that dream, and nothing is impossible. We’re going to fight and give everything we’ve got to achieve it."
In their quest to prevent the country’s World Cup hiatus going beyond four decades, Rugamas has no problem assuming responsibility for scoring the goals, regardless of the pressure that this entails.
"It suddenly feels like the pressure has eased considerably thanks to the games we’ve recently come through. I’m not going to say that we're already in the octagonal, but practically speaking we’ve taken a big step in that direction. So I don't feel under pressure; on the contrary, I’m really enjoying this period and my team-mates share that sentiment," he concludes.