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Juan Quintero did not have an easy time of things initially after arriving at River Plate at the start of 2018, but as the year draws to a close he is one of the undisputed heroes among the club’s fans. He only scored two goals in the Copa Libertadores, but both were vital. One was a crucial strike in the 3-1 win over Independiente in the quarter-finals, and the other one…

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After the drama and ecstasy of the Copa Libertadores, River are preparing for their final challenge of the year: to win the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018.

“The expectations are high,” Quintero said in an exclusive interview. “We’re arriving on the back of a great performance in the Copa Libertadores and now we have the chance to face the champions of the other continents. We want to do well and we’re prepared for the competition.”

The Colombian midfielder’s trickery, powerful shot and magical left boot mean he has become something of a game-changer. “Juanfer is one of the players we have who can make a difference,” said Lucas Pratto, echoing the sentiments of head coach Marcelo Gallardo, who described him as “someone who can open up a game”.

“Gallardo has had a lot of influence on the way I play,” the Antioquia native said. “He’s a person who demands a lot from you and he makes things happen naturally, as a result of hard work and dedication every day. To be honest, he’s someone I’ve learned a lot from. He’s got the best out of me this last year in terms of my physical fitness and footballing ability. I’m very grateful to him.”

Quintero laughs when he admits his coach still demands more from him, keen for the attacker to fully exploit his gifts.

“He’s one of the most talented players we have,” Gallardo told Argentinian media. “Sometimes I get frustrated that he doesn’t fulfil all that potential. You have to guide the players because you want their natural talent to come to the fore in key moments, so that they don’t go unnoticed, that they take responsibility.”

Yet for all the demands made of him by the coaching staff, they were also among his strongest supporters when things were not going as well.

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“It’s not easy to arrive at a big club because we have to win every game,” Quintero said. “You have to make it normal to be superior to your rivals at all times. The trust the staff and my team-mates put in me made everything relatively easy.”

Despite that trying early spell upon arriving in Argentina, the 26-year-old has a positive outlook when reflecting on 2018: “It’s been a very good year. I think it was the most important year in my career. I hope to finish it on a high with the knowledge that everything I’ve worked, fought and trained for wasn’t in vain. The reward is being here and I hope we can take advantage of it.”

‘Here’ is in Al Ain, where River Plate will play the hosts in the semi-finals of the Club World Cup. Should they win, they would progress to a potential dream final against European champions Real Madrid – not that anyone in the River camp is talking about that yet. Juan Quintero’s positivity and love for the sport is what will help him achieve and exceed his goals. 

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