Spain are through to the final of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup for the first time on Saturday, a feat that reduced their seasoned defender Juanma to tears. Appearing in his fifth world finals, the battle-hardened 34-year-old was crying his eyes out as he accepted the congratulations of Brazil’s Bruno Xavier outside the team dressing room, before being embraced by a member of La Roja’s coaching staff.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the No5, who scored his side’s opening goal in their 2-1 defeat of the Brazilians, explained why the win left him sobbing: “I was just thinking about my family,” he said, his voice wavering and his eyes red with the emotion of it all. “Everything’s going through mind right now: my children, my wife, all the work I’ve put in to get here, and all the time I’ve spent away from home. There are so many things.”
Asked what their victory meant to him as a player, he said: “We really wanted to come back strong after missing out on the last Beach Soccer World Cup. We wanted to show everyone in beach soccer that we’re a powerful team, that we can perform at the highest level.”
Absent from Spain’s penalty-shootout defeat to Italy in the semi-finals at Marseille 2008, Juanma said that beating Brazil for the first time in their last 23 meetings made clinching a place in the final at Tahiti 2013 an even more impressive achievement: “It feels that little bit more special, though it wasn’t a case of getting revenge against Brazil. I just feel very happy for the players, my national team and my country.”
On the verge of glory
There was a time when beach soccer was just a hobby for Juanma, who played the game for fun in his home town of Marbella. Everything changed in 2004, however, when national team coach Joaquin Alonso discovered him at a national championship.
I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I’m not surprised to see us in the final, not with the team we’ve got, how hard we’ve worked and the quality we have.
Taking up the story, the player said: “At the time I was a playmaker in 11-a-side football, playing in the Spanish second division. My club wouldn’t let me join up with the Spanish soccer team though, so I decided to drop down a level or two and look for a team in the third division. I have to say I’m very grateful to the people at my current club, Atletico Marbella.”
Instead of nutmegging opponents on grass, he is now defending hard and closing down opponents on sand, not that he minds the change at all: “That’s what my team-mates say,” he said with a broad smile.
A diehard Atletico Madrid fan, Juanma averages one goal every Beach Soccer World Cup, though none of his previous strikes have been as important as the one be scored against Brazil. Discussing his role in the side, he said. “As one of the veterans my job is to convince the younger players that we’re as good as Brazil or Russia.”
Spain have accounted for the first of those two powerhouses. Now comes the final against the second on Sunday, a task Juanma is relishing: “With all due respect to Russia, I was more scared of Brazil. We played the Russians in the qualifiers and in the Euro Beach Soccer League, beating them in the final and in Moscow.”
He added: “I know they’ve got 12 really good players who make up a very strong team, but we have to focus on what we can do, on keeping our standards up and, above all, maintaining our intensity.”
Juanma rejected all talk of Spain’s run in Tahiti being a surprise: “I know we’re missing a few quality players like Amarelle, but I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I’m not surprised to see us in the final, not with the team we’ve got, how hard we’ve worked and the quality we have.”
But do Spain have what it takes to win? “We’ve been trying for a long time,” replied Juanma. “I hope we don’t let it slip now that it’s within reach, just one step away.”