There is a saying in Spanish that translates as, “He can't see the wood for the trees", and Luciano Franceschini knows it well. Yet in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Argentinian beach soccer player was reluctant to look at the bigger picture as he prepares for his sixth appearance at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti next month.
The facts are these: for the first time the Argentinians will go into the world finals as continental champions, having won the qualifying competition on home soil back in February, a tournament that ended with the defender pocketing the Most Valuable Player award.
Yet despite those compelling credentials, La Albiceleste’s team captain preferred to talk their chances down rather than up: “We know that winning the South American title was important, but I don’t think it’s going to be that much of a factor when the World Cup starts. All 16 teams have the same chance of winning the tournament and we’ll all be starting from scratch again.”
And as for the opposition in Tahiti, Franceschini believed it will be as strong as ever: “Maybe the other teams will have that little bit more incentive to beat us now that we’re South American champions but, to be honest, we’re used to that. Teams have been digging that little bit deeper to beat us for a while now.”
Bridging the generation gap
Once likened in his playing style to compatriot Javier Mascherano, Franceschini played youth-team football for Argentinos Juniors and was running out for San Lorenzo reserves when a knee injury brought his dreams of hitting the big time to an end. A second opportunity came in 2005, when Francisco Petrasso, who remains his national team coach, persuaded him to give beach soccer a try.
Franceschini has never looked back, appearing in every FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup from Brazil 2006 onwards, during which time he has played 17 world finals matches, a national team record he shares with three other players: goalkeeper Marcelo Salgueiro and the brothers Ezequiel and Federico Hilaire.
Aged 29 and 30 respectively, Federico and Franceschini are the youngest members of Argentina’s old guard, which also features the 37-year-old Salgueiro, Ezequiel Hilaire, who is now 34, and the youngest of the Hilaire brothers, 32-year-old Santiago. All of them should be on duty again at Tahiti 2013.
Known as Lucho, Franceschini was the only of those old hands not to feature at the inaugural world finals in Brazil in 2005, though, unlike the rest of them, he did appear at Ravenna 2011. Given his relatively young age, he can be seen as the link with the new breed of players who are breaking through in Argentina.
“I don’t know if I’d put it like that,” he said, pondering his status in the national set-up. “What I do know is that I try to pass on everything I’ve learned and am still learning to my team-mates so that we can all grow on a personal level and, more importantly, as a team.”
Five seasons in the highly competitive Italian beach soccer league have also added to Franceschini’s know-how, as he explained: “You’re up against a lot of the players you later have to face in international tournaments like the World Cup, and the standard and experience stands you in good stead.”
Argentina have been drawn into Group B at Tahiti 2013, where they will face the OFC qualifier – whose identity will be revealed later this month – the Netherlands and El Salvador, the side that knocked them out in the group phase two years ago.
Reflecting on Argentina’s task, Franceschini said: “The Dutch are relatively new to beach soccer but they’ve achieved big things in a small space of time. They don’t play what you’d call a classical game but they do work well as a team. The Salvadorans are more physical than tactical, though they do have good technique. We played them in Ravenna and we’re hoping it’ll be our turn to beat them this time.”
During his career Franceschini has seen the likes of Russia and Switzerland make major breakthroughs and reach world finals, while Argentina, for all their pedigree, have never advanced beyond the last eight.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play against them and see them train and I can honestly say that Argentina are every bit as good as they are,” he said, contemplating the emergences of sides with less history in the game than La Albiceleste. “If we’re ever to be recognised as a real power in the game I think we need to go and get a good result in the World Cup.”
To do just that in Tahiti, Argentina will probably need to win their section. Failure to do so could condemn them to meetings with Spain and Brazil in the knockout rounds, though the Albiceleste skipper is reluctant to look too far ahead at this stage: “We can’t go to the World Cup thinking about what might and what might not happen because Argentina are good enough to take on any rival at any stage. We’ll be giving it everything we’ve got to become world champions, though we’d be really happy with a place on the podium too.”