The name Hilaire is synonymous with Argentina’s beach soccer team, one of only three national sides to have contested every FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup since its inception.
Brothers Ezequiel, Santiago and Federico Hilaire have been an integral part of the Albiceleste story on sand, appearing together at the first five world finals, between 2005 and 2009, before missing out on places at Ravenna 2011.
The trio were back in action for their country at Tahiti 2013, after which Ezequiel, the oldest of the three, retired. Judging by his comments after Argentina’s elimination from Portugal 2015 on Monday, it would seem the time has come for middle sibling Santiago to also call it a day.
“I’ve already told El Chino (Argentina coach Gustavo Casado) that I’ll be going to the Bahamas (the host nation of the 2017 world finals) in a cruise ship from Miami and cheering them on from the stands,” the 34-year-old defender told FIFA.com.
His words brought a smile to the face of Federico, the youngest of the Hilaire clan at 31. Nicknamed Yogui for his uncanny likeness to cartoon character Yogi Bear, the pivot now has the responsibility of ensuring the continuation of the Hilaire dynasty on sand, one that has amassed a total of 59 Beach Soccer World Cup appearances since the three first appeared at Rio 2005.
But how keen is the heir to continue the family tradition? “I think Federico’s going to carry on. He deserves to,” came the answer from Santiago, still sporting the No2 shirt he wore in Argentina’s 7-2 defeat to hosts Portugal. “He’s a big boy and he knows what he’s doing,” he added. “One thing I’m sure of is that he’ll try to convince me to stay on.”
“I’d already thought about quitting after Tahiti, like Ezequiel,” said Federico. “I hadn’t even planned to play in the last qualifying competition, but here I am. We like this sport so much that it’s hard sometimes to then go and do what you’ve said you would.”
Pondering the future
If Santiago does decide to walk away from the game, he will at least have gone out with a goal to his name, having scored a free-kick in the third period of his side’s defeat to the Portuguese: “That’s what I thought about when I went into the dressing room: I scored on my debut and I’ve scored in my last game. It didn’t feel that good and it didn’t count for anything, but it’ll be a nice memory one day.”
It goes without saying that the defender would have liked to have signed off on a different note, by reaching the last eight, a goal Argentina would have achieved had they beaten the hosts. Accepting his side’s fate, Santiago said: “They were much better than us. We can’t argue about the result.”
Delving deeper into what went wrong, Federico said: “The difference comes down to what teams do all year round. We make up for what we don’t have by training and being dedicated and enthusiastic, but it’s obvious that we’re still an amateur side. There are a lot of teams who are getting better, and we’re just sitting here watching them improve.”
The two siblings are agreed that there are positive signs for Argentina, though the road ahead is long. The question is, what part will they each play in that future? Having his say, Santiago answered: “I don’t know. I still haven’t thought about it, though I’d definitely like to stay involved in beach soccer in some way. I don’t think this World Cup is the end of an era in Argentina. It’s just a transitional phase.”
“I’m not very sure either,” commented Federico. “I might play on for a couple of months, a year or be back at the Bahamas. Giving up beach soccer is not the way to help out. I was out of the game for a while and I didn’t contribute anything. My idea is to help where I’m needed. If I don’t, this is going to come to a halt.”
Regardless of the roles they go on to play in the future, the legacy of the Hilaire boys as pioneers of the game is set to live on for many years yet.