If you had to pick two words to describe Alquis Alvarado, captain of the Panama side who began Thailand 2012 with a resounding 8-3 comeback win over Morocco, both ‘unorthodox’ and ‘audacious’ may well fit the bill.
“I think those words describe the whole squad, not just me,” Alvarado told FIFA.com. “We all come from very humble backgrounds, where we used to play a five-a-side version of the game, which was pretty similar to futsal. We used to organise leagues that were far from professional, but we had passion and enthusiasm in spades. This team does too,” added the gifted 26-year-old wide-man.
That passion came in handy for Los Canaleros against Morocco, particularly after the latter stormed into an early three-goal lead. “What happened? Nerves simply got the better of us,” explained Alvarado, a fervent admirer of Lionel Messi and who also wears the No10. “It was something we’d never experienced before, not even in our warm-up games against European sides. But I never stopped believing we could turn things around.”
Born in the populous district of San Miguelito in Panama Province, Alvarado first played futsal at the age of 15. His national-team debut came in 2003 and, though he has been a regular since, he still has to find another way to make ends meet. “I work as a construction worker, putting up walls, painting – whatever I need to do to support my two daughters, who are seven and three-years-old.”
So, where does futsal stand in this context? “It’s all about the honour of representing your country,” said Alvarado, who dyed a section of his hair red due to November being 'el mes de la patria' (the month of the motherland), during which Panama celebrates its independence on three separate days – all of great historical significance – over the course of the month.
What's more, Los Canaleros’ skipper knows he has a golden opportunity here at Thailand 2012. “Having a good tournament could put us in the shop window,” he said. “We all dream of being able to make a living from the game, and I’d love to play in Spain, because that’s where the best players are. I’d even snap up an opportunity in 11-a-side football if it came along: I love futsal but I have to put my family first.”
Next up for Panama are, funnily enough, two-time world champions Spain. “They’re at the top of the tree in futsal, and that’s the challenge for us,” said Alvarado. “Winning would be a dream, but we’re realistic. The final score isn’t as important as the experience we’ll gain from this game. Even so, I think we might be able to sneak a draw.”
Easier said than done, but Panama’s No10 believes that “if we can do what we like best, which is enjoying ourselves without caring who we’re up against, we can get a result.
"They’re the favourites, but the same thing happened in qualifying for this World Cup,” he added, before ending the conversation in bullish fashion. “People thought we were there to make up the numbers, but here we are. Panama are here to spring a surprise. Several surprises in fact!”