There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with being nicknamed 'The Ronaldinho of futsal,' not that it seems too much of a burden for the man in question, Costa Rica’s long-haired star Diego Zuniga.
The talented 22-year-old forward, who is readying himself for Los Ticos’ opening game at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012, against the host nation in Bangkok this Thursday, acquired his moniker after scoring a wonder goal in a warm-up match with Brazil back in May.
The strike, which involved Zuniga dispossessing an opponent on the halfway line before dummying the keeper and hooking his left foot behind his right to roll the ball into an empty net, proved an internet sensation and drew comparisons with the twinkle-toed wizardry of Ronaldinho himself.
“I don’t really see what the fuss is about,” the smiling Zuniga, who names the Brazil star as his favourite player, told FIFA.com. “As far as I’m concerned there’s no one else like him, and though I try to do some of the things he does, I reckon he’s achieved just a little bit more than I have.
“To be honest, I never thought that goal would have such an impact. It was special for me because it came against the world champions, but that was all. All the stuff that’s come after it is a bit over the top if you ask me.”
Zuniga started playing futsal at the age of nine, prompted by his friends, who were amazed by his ball skills and persuaded him to swap grass pitches for the wooden floor of the futsal court.
Taking up the story, he said: “Though I used to do well in trials for 11-a-side football, I always enjoyed playing a faster game in a smaller space. The other game was not for me.”
A student and clothing shop assistant, Zuniga made his international debut four years ago, at the age of 18. Since then he has been a regular in a Tico side that took many observers by surprise in winning the 2012 CONCACAF Futsal Championship, held in Guatemala.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said the No12 emphatically. “Our main objective there was to qualify for the World Cup, but we were focused on winning too. That mindset is one of our biggest assets.”
Zuniga contributed to Costa Rica’s success with a goal in the final against the hosts, and believes that experience will prove handy on Thursday. “Winning that tournament against the hosts will come in useful against Thailand,” he said.
“Quite apart from the motivation we’re going to feel by playing our first game against the hosts in such a big tournament, we also know they could well be under a lot of pressure,” he added.
“We are ready,” said a defiant Zuniga. “In the build-up to the tournament we’ve been focusing on defending and some aspects of our attacking play. At the very least we want to get through the group phase. If we can do that, who knows? And if we don’t, then it will just be because the rest were better than us. We won’t be holding anything back.”