“I’ll never forget it. That’s the kind of thing that stays in your heart.”
Elliot Ragomo, captain of the Solomon Islands, is addressing the elephant in the room. The form of the team has been discussed, his role as captain analysed; eventually, conversation had to turn to the events of 6 October 2008. “Everyone remembers us for that game, and that scoreline,” he acknowledged. “It’s a world record after all.”
He is talking, of course, about the 31-2 thrashing he and his team-mates suffered at the hands of Russia during Brazil 2008. It was, as Ragomo correctly states, a result that saw the Solomons make history for all the wrong reasons, and tomorrow sees them return to the FIFA Futsal World Cup for the first time since. Their opponents? Russia.
And yet, while you would imagine that this is just the opening fixture the Kurukuru would have wished to avoid, Ragomo insists that the opposite is true. “Honestly, we are very happy to be playing Russia again,” he told FIFA.com. “Because it’s the same opponents as that 31-2 match, it’s a perfect chance to show people how far we have come since 2008. We have been improving all the time, and I can promise you one thing now: that kind of result will never happen again with this team.
“The players are mostly the same ones who played in Brazil, but you will see a different team and a different spirit here in Thailand. We are ready for the challenge this time and we are all going to stick together to make sure the Solomon Islands are competitive. I think we can cause a surprise or two. People will see our results from 2008 and think we have no chance. But we have a lot of talented players and, more importantly, we have nothing to lose.”
Wiser for their experiences in Brazil, the Solomons team here in Thailand is also noticeably older. Four years ago, the squad’s average age of 18 hinted at the difficulties that were to follow, whereas this time they arrive with the knowhow necessary to equip them for the challenges that await. That battle-readiness, and the extent of their improvement in the intervening years, was underlined just last week in fact when the Kurukuru stunned the tournament hosts with a 4-3 friendly win.
“That was great - a real boost for everyone,” said Ragomo. “No-one expected that – the Solomons beating Thailand in their own country – and it has given us great confidence about what we can do here at the World Cup.
"Our target is to qualify from our group. We know it will be tough, but it would be the biggest thing in the world if we can achieve it. There would be a public holiday back home if we can get through. We will need to see what the games bring, of course, and we can’t say anything for sure at this stage. But we have one motto in this team and it is never to give up. I think you will see here in Thailand that we live by that.”