When Hector Francisco Petrasso first started playing beach soccer at the age of 29 back in 2000, he was just one of a group of friends that got together to train once or twice a week and who, in their spare time, made up Argentina’s beach soccer national side.
“We worked really hard at a swimming pool complex in the Punta Carrasco region. They had a beach volleyball court and we used to drag futsal goals onto it for training,” recalled Petrasso, currently at the helm of an Albiceleste squad that now use the Argentinian Football Association’s training centre.
“Back then, somebody would say to me ‘Hey Pancho, I know a lad who’s a good player’ and the guy would come and train with us,” continued the coach, who enjoyed an intensive eight-week preparatory period with his charges prior to South American qualifying for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011. “We still took it seriously in those days, but friendship was at the heart of it all.”
A timely generational shift
It was no easy task for Petrasso, therefore, when tough, strictly professional decisions needed to be taken about a squad with such informal and friendly roots. This point came after Dubai 2009, when Argentina fell at the first hurdle despite recording one normal-time win, one shoot-out success and just one defeat in their group.
Deciding that his squad needed fresh blood, Petrasso gradually began introducing new, younger players with one eye on the future and the continued evolution of this branch of the beautiful game. This process goes a long way to explaining the dramatic change in the make-up of the Albiceleste squad for Ravenna 2011, compared with their previous five trips to the showpiece finals.
It was a big leap of faith, because we knew we ran the risk of missing out on the World Cup for the very first time.
Indeed, the likes of former stalwarts such as keeper Marcelo Salgueiro, forward Facundo Minici and the three Hilaire brothers will all be absent from this September’s beach soccer festival in Italy. “It wasn’t my intention to simply leave them all out just like that,” said Petrasso, who contacted each of the players individually to explain his reasoning.
“For my first get-together, for example, I wanted to call up the youngest Hilaire brother, Federico, and Minici too,” he continued. “But it’s tricky when friendship’s involved. They took the news badly and insisted that either I called up all of them or none of them. So that meant I had to think like a coach, and focus on the best for the team and for the future of beach soccer in our country.”
School’s in for Professor Petrasso
That raft of departures forced the supremo to assemble a squad made up of young players new to the sport, alongside remaining Dubai 2009 veterans Luciano Franceschini, Cesar Mendoza, Matias Galvan, Agustin Dallera and Luciano Leguizamon. “It was really like starting from scratch, like setting up a football school,” said Petrasso. “It was a big leap of faith, because we knew we ran the risk of missing out on the World Cup for the very first time.”
Fortunately for them that was not the case, with Argentina winning four games on the sands of the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro to book their ticket to Ravenna 2011, before losing the final to hosts Brazil. “In tactical terms the team was incredible,” said coach Petrasso. “Perhaps we’ve still got work to do on the technical side, but it’s good to know this team hasn’t peaked yet and has a lot of room to grow. The idea is to keep developing and, if you never change the team, that doesn’t happen.”
That may be the case, but La Albiceleste’s boss has not closed the door on anyone wishing to battle their way back into the Argentina set-up. “As long as they understand the need to fight for their places, everyone will get a chance,” said Petrasso, as the conversation concluded. “But when friendship gets in the way, it can be difficult. That’s the price you pay for progress and becoming more professional.”