There will not be a prouder Aussie tomorrow than Greg Giovenali. This, after all, is a man who will be representing his country at a FIFA Futsal World Cup for the first time, and will be doing so wearing the captain’s armband.
It wasn’t so long ago, however, that Giovenali was lining up not in the green and gold of the Futsalroos, but in the distinctive Azzurri of their opponents. Indeed, some of the players he will be doing battle with in Bangkok were once team-mates in Italy’s U-21 side, and remain good friends. There are others, too, that the 25-year-old played alongside during a six-year spell with the futsal division of Serie A giants Lazio.
Yet despite the alliances involved, and his strong ties to Italy, Giovenali has warned his old colleagues not to expect any favours. As he told FIFA.com: “It’s going to be a special game for me because I played with quite a few of the Italian boys and am still friendly with the likes of Sergio Romano and Gabriel Lima.
"We’re actually staying in the same hotel as Italy here in Thailand, so I met some of the guys in the corridor the other day and we were talking and laughing, remembering some old stories. But those friendships will go out of the window when we play each other, and I told them that too. There will be no avoiding contact and taking it easy when we’re out there on the court.”
Though born and raised in Australia, the country to which his grandparents emigrated, Giovenali admits that – as a futsal player – he should be stamped with ‘Made in Italy’. It was in Rome, after all, that he learned his trade in the competitive environment of the Italian top flight, and enjoyed his first taste of international action. Not that there was any question of him turning down Australia when the Futsalroos came calling.
“It wasn’t ever a dilemma, choosing which national team to play for” he said. “Australia were the first to get in contact about me playing for the senior team and, having been born and brought up in Australia, that was where my strongest loyalties lay anyway.
“But I loved my time in Italy, was made to feel very welcome in the U-21s, and I’ve no doubts at all that my experiences there improved me massively. Playing for a famous club like Lazio in a professional league was totally different to what I’d been used to in terms of the standard of play and the level of competitiveness. It’s only since I’ve come back to Australia that I’ve realised some of the things I was taking for granted.
“I had a feeling we might get Italy in the draw and was happy that we did, although we know we’re not at the same level as them. We’re all amateur players, whereas their team is full of professionals. But we’re not here just to make up the numbers. The tournament is being shown live on TV back home and it’s very rare for futsal to be given that kind of profile. We want to give everyone watching the best possible impression.”