MADRID - Reuters
Navas says ‘We were mentally strong and that’s what made the difference.’ AFP photo
Jesus Navas was unable to play for Spain until late 2009 because of anxiety attacks but on Thursday he demonstrated remarkable nerve to step up and score the penalty that sent the world and European champions through to the Confederations Cup final.
The zippy 27-year-old winger, who earlier showed Manchester City fans what they can expect from their new signing with a fine performance off the bench, rifled his effort into the corner past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to win a nerve-shredding semi-final shootout 7-6.
The game, played in energy-sapping heat and humidity in Fortaleza, Brazil, had ended 0-0 after extra time and Navas was one of the few Spaniards who managed to cause the stubborn Italians problems with his pacy, weaving runs down the right.
The player has come a long way since he used to be frozen with panic when away from his Andalusian home.
“I was really confident in myself and in the team,” he told FIFA.com. “At that moment, I didn’t let anything cross my mind because I was so certain what the objective was.
“And, fortunately, I managed to achieve it. We were mentally strong and that’s what made the difference.”
A classic impact player who enters the fray late in the game when the opposition are tiring, it was Navas who picked up the ball deep in the Spain half near the end of the 2010 World Cup final against Netherlands.
His trademark burst of speed set in motion the move that culminated in Andres Iniesta’s winning goal and he also netted against Croatia at Euro 2012 to send Spain through to the last eight as Group C winners. His plucky penalty on Thursday drew praise from team mates Fernando Torres and Gerard Pique.