The fact that Gabriel and Enmanuel Ayala can instinctively find each other out on court should surprise nobody, particularly since the pair are twins and have been playing futsal together for 18 years.
This bond shone through in Paraguay’s opening game against Ukraine at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012, when Enmanuel took full advantage of the keeper failing to hold Gabriel’s shot to notch his – and La Albirroja’s – second goal in the 3-3 draw.
“It’s true that it wasn’t a direct assist, but I had a feeling he was going to shoot and so I got into position for the rebound, because I know how hard he hits it,” said Enmanuel, exclusively to FIFA.com. “Often I’ll know what he’s going to do before he does it and I act accordingly,” added the more reserved of the brothers, who struck all three of Paraguay’s goals against the Europeans.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time,” chipped in Gabriel, who differs from his sibling thanks to his short hair and more outgoing personality. “Sometimes we just need to exchange a quick glance [to know what to do]. It’s pretty mechanical by now.”
The pair also have contrasting styles out on the playing surface. “The ‘cierre’ (defender) is usually seen as a slow, physical player, but Gabriel is the opposite. He can defend but he also knows when and how to pass the ball. In my opinion, he’s the best in his position,” said Enmanuel, before his brother returned the favour. “I think Enmanuel’s very good in one-on-one situations and clinical in front of goal. He’s the one who’s got the talent.”
The brothers’ story began in their native Villa Hayes, a city located some 31km from the capital Asuncion. “At eight we started playing at a futsal school and we later formed a team we called ‘Hermanos de Julio’ (Julio’s Brothers) in a tribute to our brother, who passed away in 1999,” explained Gabriel.
“By 14 we were already playing in the first division and by 18 we’d moved to Italy, from where we only returned this year,” he continued. “Now there’s a chance that, for the first time, we’ll sign for different clubs. If so, it’ll be really strange!”
This year’s competition on Thai soil is the Ayalas' second FIFA Futsal World Cup, having been part of the Paraguay squad at Chinese Taipei 2004 but missing the cut for Brazil 2008. In a stark contrast to the competition eight years ago, La Albirroja have been tagged as several experts’ dark horses this time around.
“The pressure on us has increased, but it’s our own fault for beating Brazil in qualifying,” said Emmanuel. “Only our results will tell if we’re up to the task.”
And despite his treble against Ukraine, a late sending-off means the on-form goalgetter will be unable to add to his tally in Paraguay’s next Group A game against Costa Rica. “It left a very bitter taste in my mouth because it was my fault we went a man down and then they equalised,” said Enmanuel. “But I know the team’s more than ready for what’s coming next and that we can get a positive result.”
Sharing this optimistic mindset was Gabriel, when making the final contribution to our conversation: “The first game of a tournament is never easy, but we played well and came close to winning. The most important thing is that our hopes are still alive.”