Pablo Zabaleta is an Argentine Footballer from Argentina he
currently plays for RCD Espanyol in Spain's tor league the La
Liga. With his powerful bursts down the right flank, fighting
spirit and invaluable leadership, Argentine youngster Pablo
Zabaleta is every coach's dream. The blond midfielder, still
only 21, has already accumulated a wealth of valuable experience
and plans to break into Jose Pekerman's squad for the 2006 FIFA
World Cupô, having worked with the national team coach
previously at youth level.
Born in Buenos Aires in January 1985, Zabaleta's mental strength
has been the key to his success, as he showed in overcoming the
death of his mother in 2000 to earn a place in the youth ranks
at Argentine side San Lorenzo. Lining up against the mighty Boca
Juniors on his first division debut in January 2003, Zabaleta
refused to be overawed and won the man-of-the-match award
despite his team's 2-1 defeat. However, in recent years it has
been in the blue and white of Argentina that the young
midfielder has really made his mark, representing his country at
several South American youth tournaments, one FIFA U-17 World
Championship and two FIFA World Youth Championships. The FIFA
U-17 World Championship in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 was
Zabaleta's first big test at international level and he did not
disappoint, helping Hugo Tocalli's side to a fourth-placed
finish and even weighing in with a goal. Zabaleta reached even
greater heights in 2003 with his side winning the South American
U-20 Championship, before clinching another fourth place at that
year's FIFA World Youth Championship in the United Arab Emirates.
Zabaleta's achievements last year underlined why he is so highly
rated. By now firmly established as a key figure in the San
Lorenzo first team, the right-sided midfielder was given the
captaincy of his country's U-20s and the responsibility of
leading a revamped team at the FIFA World Youth Championship.
Alongside the likes of Barcelona starlet Lionel Messi, Zabaleta
led his team to victory over Nigeria in the final, scoring a
series of vital goals along the way, including the winner
against arch-rivals Brazil.
His team-mate Lionel Messi, a player many feel will be critical
to Argentina's chances at Germany 2006, had this to say about
Zabaleta's role in their success in the Netherlands last summer:
"He's a great captain. He made sure everyone was OK, liased with
the coach and the doctor, and geed us up when we were losing.
He's a really positive leader, whose opinion we all respect."
Not only did Zabaleta's performances on Dutch soil earn him a
four million euro move to Spanish side RCD Espanyol, it also led
to his senior team debut under the watchful eye of Pekerman.
That first cap came on 17 August against Hungary, on the same
night that saw Messi receive his marching orders just moments
after coming on for his debut as a substitute. Days later both
played in Argentina's FIFA World Cup qualifier against Paraguay.
Asked recently whether there was too much being expected of
young players like him, Zabaleta's reply was unequivocal: "There
comes a time when you stop thinking of yourself as a youngster.
In our case, we've already played a lot of games and we've made
our debut for the full national side. We're not boys any more
and we're living in a grown-up environment."
The next step on the ladder for the ambitious youngster would be
a place in the Albiceleste squad for Germany 2006. Having
already racked up more than 30 appearances and scored two goals
for his new side, there are those who consider him to be a
viable alternative to Inter's Javier Zanetti.
"There's no need to get carried away. At the moment I'm totally
focused on playing well for my club and staying in the
international frame. That said, I'd be lying if I said I didn't
care (about Germany). I'd love to be in the final 23." Given his
track record, you would be foolish to bet against him.