Close friends for the best part of 15 years, goalkeeper Carlos Merida and winger Estuardo De Leon are both survivors of the Guatemala side that contested the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2000, an event that marked the starting point for futsal in the Central American nation.
On duty again at Brazil 2008, the duo are appearing in their third FIFA Futsal World Cup at Thailand 2012, though as De Leon explained in an interview with FIFA.com, this will be his farewell appearance in the competition.
“As far as I’m concerned this is it for me,” said the 35-year-old Chapín skipper, the architect of their 5-2 defeat of Colombia on Saturday. “I know we’re part of a generation that has achieved some big things but the time has come for us to make way for the youngsters. And what better way to do that than after a World Cup?”
One year his skipper’s junior, Merida also had a big hand in Guatemala’s comeback win over Los Cafeteros, pulling off some important stops at key times, not least when keeping out a first-half penalty. Yet, like De Leon, he too is ready to call it a day.
“The next generation are already coming through,” he said. “There are six or seven players from 2008 and we’ve got some 21 and 22-year-olds who are working well, which is reassuring when you’re retiring.”
Though they play for different sides in Guatemala’s semi-professional league, the two old stagers are firm friends and know each other inside out.
Discussing the close bond between them, the goalkeeper put it down to more than just the time they have spent together in the national team: “It’s because of our background. We both come from very modest neighbourhoods and we know that to play in a World Cup is to fulfil a dream that every boy harbours. It’s a blessing from God.”
Having survived a scare against the Colombians, the Guatemalan stalwarts are turning their thoughts to Russia, their opponents on Tuesday. “We need to make sure we maintain our focus because we won’t always be able to come back from two goals down,” said De Leon. “All the same, the fact we fought back to win that first game is a confidence-booster for us.”
Merida had this to say about their next match. “Russia press hard and very high up the pitch too, so I’m expecting a very different game to the previous one. It’s essential we keep possession and keep the ball on the deck because they’re very tall. We know we can give them a fight, though. They’ve got a lot of technique but we know them better than they know us, which I think gives us an advantage.”
A win would take Los Chapines straight into the Round of 16: “That’s what we’re aiming for and it would be ‘mission accomplished’ for us if we can do it,” explained De Leon. “That doesn’t mean to say we’re lacking in ambition, just that we’re realistic. We’d also be delighted if we could go on and make it to the quarter-finals.”