Ever since their narrow victory over Portugal's Benfica in late January earned them the title of 2007 Recopa (European Cup Winners' Cup) champions, Lobelle de Santiago have been struggling. The Spanish side have subsequently been on the wrong end of two heavy defeats in their national league, going down 6-3 to the powerful Polaris and 9-1 to DKV Zaragoza.
"In cases like this, the euphoria of victory can work against you, as it makes you lose your concentration. I'd hoped we could use our (Recopa) win to motivate us even further in the league," Lobelle coach Jose Maria Pazos said recently.
"Until now we've fulfilled expectations in every event we've taken part in, except the league of course," Pazos rued. "In the Supercopa we reached the Final, where we lost to ElPozo, and we qualified for the (final phase of the) Spanish Cup without undue difficulty. However, it's in the league that we're not performing to the standards expected of us."
The Galician outfit are currently 11th in the table and all of 22 points behind leaders Boomerang. "It's very difficult to compete for the league title as the big three (Polaris, Boomerang and ElPozo) are all expected to win it. In terms of budget and squad depth, they're in a different league to the rest of us. Yet for all of that, there are a group of teams (above us) who we feel we can catch if we can take advantage of their slip-ups," the coach told FIFA.com.
The city of Santiago de Compostela, better known as a destination for Christian pilgrims than as a futsal stronghold, devoted itself entirely to the sport for four days last month (25-28 January) as it proudly hosted the European Cup Winners' Cup tournament. The locals were drawn in Group B alongside Alter Ego Luparense (ITA) and Aktyubrentgen Aqtobe (KAZ), while Azkar Lugo (ESP), Spartak Shelkovo (RUS) and Benfica (POR) fought it out in Group A.
The enthusiasm with which the city hosted the tournament coupled with Lobelle's fantastic home support meant the local side had all the impetus needed to win their group and eventually overcome their Portuguese opponents in the final.
"We knew Benfica were a great team and would be formidable opponents, plus they have more international experience than we do," said Pazos. "But we came into the game on the back of a great performance against Luparense, and that, along with the support of our fans, gave us a lot of confidence. I believe we were deserved winners because we created the most chances during the game. Moreover we were the dominant team during the game and although we were made to sweat, we managed to win it in the end," the coach added.
Founded in 1975, Lobelle de Santiago had to wait until 2003 to make their inaugural appearance in Spain's top flight, the Division de Honor. Yet after just a few seasons among the country's elite, the club can be proud of their achievements, winning last year's Spanish Cup to pave the way for their recent Recopa triumph.
For the coach, "hard work and planning" have been the key factors behind the club's success. "We're a humble club in terms of our budget, but we have very clear goals and an extremely solid infrastructure. In fact, I'd say it's among the top three (infrastructures) in the Spanish league. Thanks to good planning, a large dose of optimism and a lot of hard work, slowly but surely success is coming our way."
As well as being fiercely passionate about the sport, Pazos has accumulated a wealth of experience for someone his age. At just 32, he has already coached seven different Spanish futsal sides and held the reins at MNK Orkan Zagreb, with whom he won the Croatian cup. "I never stay in one place for long, and I like to try new challenges. The eight years I spent away from Santiago made me mature as a person and as a coach, and winning the (Recopa) title in my home town with Lobelle was something very special indeed."
Pazos' overseas experience has not only shown him the realities of international futsal, it has also made him appreciate the quality of the domestic scene. "The difference is considerable, although the gap is closing all the time. More and more countries are getting into the sport in a big way, which can only be a good thing for futsal. Games are also getting more competitive, and the same few teams no longer win everything. With Spanish sides having already enjoyed a long period of dominance, the truth is that our margin for improvement is getting smaller, which is why I believe that it will become increasingly difficult for us to win titles like these in the future," the coach said.
Results of the 2007 European Recopa
1. Benfica 4 pts
2. Spartak Shelkovo 4 pts
3. Azkar Lugo 0 pts
Azkar Lugo - Spartak Shelkovo 2-4 (2-2)
Spartak Shelkovo - Benfica 3-3 (2-0)
Azkar Lugo - SL Benfica 5-8 (2-5)
1. Lobelle de Santiago 4 pts
2. Alter Ego Luparense 3 pts
3. Aktyubrentgen Aqtobe 1pt
Lobelle de Santiago - Aktyubrentgen Aqtobe 2-2 (2-0)
Alter Ego Luparense - Aktyubrentgen Aqtobe 4-1 (2-0)
Lobelle de Santiago - Alter Ego Luparense 8-1 (4-0)
5th/6th place: Azkar Lugo - Aktyubrentgen Aqtobe 4-2 (1-0)
3rd/4th place: Spartak Shelkovo - Alter Ego Luparense 3-7 (0-2)
Final: Benfica - Lobelle de Santiago 3-5 (3-5; 2-2; 1-0) - Two periods of extra time.