(ABOVE) Nicaragua's Juan Barrera (white jersey) plays his club football in Austria.
MANAGUA, Nicaragua – It would be difficult to find anyone more appreciative of Nicaragua’s impressive run in 2018 World Cup Qualifying than Juan Barrera, the side’s captain.
The 26-year-old is the leader of a new generation that seeks to book a place in the group stage for a first-ever time, when it takes a 3-2 lead into the third-round, second-leg meeting against visiting Jamaica on Tuesday.
Not only is Barrera experiencing success with the national team, he is making history at the club level. Earlier this year, the midfielder became the first Nicaraguan to play in Europe, signing with Austria’s Rheindorf Altach.
"There is no player like him in Nicaragua," said head coach Henry Duarte, the Pinoleros’ head coach.
Barrera, though, does not accept praise easily. He much prefers to share the credit.
"I’ve been in the national team since I was 19-years-old,” Barrera told CONCACAF.com in an exclusive interview. “This is a great partnership. The coach has come to change the mentality of the Nicaraguan player he creates.”
“There are good friends. There is good camaraderie.”
Nicaragua owns an enviable 5-0-0 record in this qualifying cycle and needs only a draw against the Reggae Boyz at the Estadio Nacional to reach the next round.
"What starts well, ends well,” stressed Barrera, who scored in a 3-1 win over Anguilla in March. “The technical changes have had a positive influence.”
On the stunning first-leg victory over the 2015 CONCACAF runner-up, he commented: "I thought we would get a good result in the game against Jamaica. With tactical order we can progress."
As the Nicaraguan program continues to grow, Barrera believes he’ll be joined by teammates in Europe.
"Here, there are players who could play in Europe,” concluded the former Real Esteli star. “It is only a matter of giving them a chance.”
And Barrera will have played a major role in paving the way for those opportunities.