The 24-year-old won the World Cup with Argentina in a thrilling final that went to penalties after a 3-3 scoreline at full time. Argentina won the shootout 4-2. In an interview with bayer04.de, Palacios talked about his impressions of Qatar, the incredible celebrations in his home country and the modesty of his famous teammates Lionel Messi and Ángel di Maria. He also explains how the experience of older players helped over the course of the tournament.
Pala, in the name of Bayer 04, many congratulations on winning the World Cup. – The whole club is incredibly proud of you! How do you feel and have you been able to take everything in?
Palacios: Of course, I'm unbelievably proud to have won this trophy with the team. The day has made a big impression on me. I'm really thrilled to get such a welcome and the way I've been received here by the club and the people. I'm really grateful to every single person I know here at Bayer 04.
You left Leverkusen to go to Qatar in the middle of November and an incredible amount has happened since then. Six eventful weeks later, you are back here at the BayArena with the gold World Cup winner's medal. Tell us what it was like. What did you experience in that time and which special moments do you remember now?
Palacios: The final week was really special. It was a mixture of excitement and total calm. We had our families with us and that was very important support for us to be able to go into the final relaxed but focused. And what I have to say: The return flight to Argentina and everything after that was simply crazy. The title is such a big present for the country and the people. You can really say that for them it's as if you could touch heaven with your hands.
From the outside it looked as if no other nation could beat you after the surprise opening defeat against Saudi Arabia because of the great team spirit. How did you manage to stick together and produce impressive and battling performances game after game?
Palacios: We lost to Saudi Arabia but that didn't unsettle us at all. On the one hand, we did really well in the qualifiers. Above all the experienced players and the coach were able to convey a certain calm and confidence to us younger players. We accepted that and it was always clear to us that we were capable of achieving something great and we had the quality and the players to do that. We were able to show that on the pitch against Mexico and demonstrate that success is down to us and not other teams. I really believe that this calm and certainty was crucial for our success.
You played in three games including the impressive semi-final win against Croatia (3-0). What did your appearances feel like?
Palacios: I was obviously emotional excited but I felt the confidence of the coach the whole time. When I came on as a substitute he just said to me "play like you always do!" – that settled me down. I was able to do my best and then we got through to the final, thank God. (He laughs)
In addition to the photo where you're holding up the World Cup, one other thing is unforgettable: the photo in the dressing room with the trophy and your teammates Ángel Di Maria and Lionel Messi, which you posted on Instagram just after winning the game. How did that come about?
Palacios: It was spontaneous. Everybody was taking photographs but that was a really special and important photo and, above all, a defining and important moment for me. Both Lionel and Ángel really deserve the title, they are great players and have been trying to win the trophy for so long and now they have finally done it. I'm totally grateful. Not just because of the photo but also because they're both incredibly modest people – in spite of their world star status. For me that's a photo for eternity.
After the flight to Argentina, the celebrations obviously carried on non-stop. Some incredible photos went round the world of thousands of fans celebrating. You could hardly move forward on the coach as everything was so packed. What was the atmosphere like back home and how important was the title for the country and the people?
Palacios: The country is suffering and currently not in a very good place due to economic problems. Therefore, football is everything for the Argentinians. You could feel that every second. It was so emotional. Children, adults, families – they all cried and were happy for and with us as a team. They were simply overjoyed. When we landed, so many people had been awake for hours waiting for us. Those are unique moments I'll never forget.
Now you're back in Leverkusen and you have the gold World Cup medal round your neck. What can you take from this great triumph and all the unforgettable experiences into football at Leverkusen and in the Rückrunde with the Werkself?
Palacios: Everything happens really quickly in football. This morning I was really happy to be back in the dressing room to see the lads and the way they welcomed me. We'll use the break to prepare together and work hard to get back into the Bundesliga campaign in our best possible form. The experiences from the World Cup remain incredible and are in my mind. I'm trying to put that to one side and focus on the present. On the other hand, I want to be able to use the euphoria to help achieve the club's targets.
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