• Spain take on Italy in a crucial Russia 2018 qualifier
  • Tied on points at the top of Group G, the two are vying for one direct berth
  • Nacho looks ahead to this Saturday’s game at the Bernabeu

Nearly every boy dreams of being a goalscorer when they grow up. There are always exceptions, though, and Nacho Fernandez is one of them. “I’ve enjoyed being a defender since I was a kid,” he told FIFA.com with a grin.

It comes as little surprise, then, that after starting his career as a defensive midfielder, the Spain international and Real Madrid youth product should end up in the back-line, where he enjoys his football most.

“I love defending,” he added, “especially in situations where you’re right on the edge, when the opposition create a clear-cut chance and you come along and stop them. When you get it right, you feel very pleased with yourself.”

Did you know?

  • Nacho joined the Real Madrid youth ranks at the age of 11 and has stayed with the club ever since.
  • A Spain international at every level from the U-15s upwards, he was a member of the side that finished runners-up at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007.
  • Made his full international debut in 2013, in a friendly against Chile.
  • He still lives in his home town of Alcala de Henares, in the outskirts of Madrid, and his younger brother Alex is also a professional footballer.
  • At the age of 12 he was diagnosed with diabetes. Despite being told he could not carry on playing football, he has gone on to fulfil his dreams.
  • His footballing role models are Fernando Hierro, Fabio Cannavaro and Sergio Ramos.

Now 27, Nacho is in the form of his life and has gradually and quietly forced his way into the Madrid first team, while also nailing down a place in the Spain squad, thanks in the main to his versatility, an asset greatly appreciated by Roja coach Julen Lopetegui.

“There’s no doubt it’s helped me in my career,” said the player. “It’s important for a coach to have someone who can play in different positions, and though I’m more of a centre-half than a full-back, if you look at my career in the last few years, you’ll see that I’ve played a lot of games at full-back.”

One of them was the 1-1 draw in Italy earlier in Group G of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers. When left-back Jordi Alba came off clutching his thigh in the 22nd minute, Lopetegui had no hesitation in turning to Nacho as his replacement.

An admirer of Italy’s 'BBC' (Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, who formed part of the Juventus side when his Madrid claimed their 12th European Cup/UEFA Champions League title in June), Nacho is more than well qualified to analyse Saturday’s showdown between La Roja and La Squadra Azzurra at the Bernabeu.

Make or break
“Before the qualifiers started we knew that Saturday’s match would be absolutely vital. We want to book our place as soon as we can. We’ve still got some tough teams to face and a tricky away game or two, but a win will allow us to approach the matches we’ve got left in a calmer frame of mind.”

Bonucci, the best of the BBC
“They’re a great three-man unit and I watch them a lot. Their positioning is perfect and they know how to get the team to keep its shape when it’s defending. I like watching games and I’ve seen a lot of Juventus and Italy this year. Barzagli and Chiellini know how to use their experience on the pitch, but my favourite of the three is Bonucci. He’s got a lot of qualities.”

The lowdown on the match
“We’re playing at home, in front of our fans, and at the Bernabeu too. It’s a big stadium and it should be full. We need to stay relaxed and control possession, which is our strong point. When you move the ball from one side to the other, you open up space, which is what we need to create if we’re going to make them suffer. We also need to be very focused at the back because they know how to hurt us on the counter and with high balls. We’ve been doing really well and we need to keep that going against Italy.”