As the first team to qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012, Solomon Islands have wasted little time getting on with their preparations. The Kurukurus are understandably anxious to make amends for their first appearance in the competition, at Brazil 2008, when they lost all four games and conceded no fewer than 69 goals.
To this end, the Islanders were delighted to accept the help of one of the leading exponents of the discipline, Spain. The European champions have been dominant at the global tournament during the last two decades, being crowned world champions in 2000 and 2004, as well as finishing runners-up four years ago in Brazil. The collaboration took the form of a four-day clinic given by Spain coach Venancio Lopez, who has been at the helm of La Roja since 2007.
“My involvement stemmed from an agreement between the Spanish Football Association and the Oceania Confederation that includes futsal and even women’s football across the region,” the 47-year-old told FIFA.com. “I have to admit I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the experience,” he quickly added.
“Organisationally, everything could be improved – I mean there is only one sports hall in all the islands,” explained Lopez. “In terms of football, however, the natural skills are surprising. During the clinic, when we had training twice a day, they showed an exceptional aptitude for football in general and futsal in particular. As well technical ability, the players have an advantage in terms of physique. In other words, they potentially have what it takes to have a good World Cup.”
Solomon Islands again showed their attacking prowess during the qualifiers for Thailand 2012, winning all five of their fixtures with an average of 9.8 goals per game. The problem, according to Lopez, lies elsewhere: “It’s clear they need help on the tactical side of things, above all in defence, which is where they have the most shortcomings. It would be important for them to bring in a specialist in this area to improve things.”
The Kurukurus suffered two particularly painful defeats on their debut on the world stage, a 21-0 reverse to hosts and subsequent champions Brazil, and a 31-2 mauling at the hands of eventual semi-finalists Russia. The latter stands as the biggest winning margin in the tournament’s history. “I’m sure we won’t have a repeat of that [in Thailand],” insisted Lopez. “Almost all the young lads who were around 16 back in 2008 are still in the squad, so they will be much more mature when they go to Thailand. Obviously, with an average age of around 20, their future potential is unlimited,” he added.
Lopez singled out three survivors of Brazil 2008 to watch for: Elliot Ragomo, Jack Wetney and Micah Lea’alafa. Ragomo, as team captain, was beaming in his praise of the clinic. "This is a unique opportunity for any player, as Lopez is one of the best coaches in the world. We were listening to his every word as he could give us the necessary tools to achieve our goals. We don’t just want to show up at the World Cup: we want to compete there.”
So what can we expect of Oceania’s representative in Thailand? Lopez had the final say, striking an upbeat but realistic note: “Obviously, they are not going to win the title, but they can certainly cause a surprise. They’ll go into the competition at similar level to several other qualifiers. Indeed, they could win a game and perhaps even make the second phase.”