For many nations, qualifying for a World Cup is success in itself. Yet although that is especially true of teams that have never before competed at this exalted level, it comes with an inherent danger.
The risk, as understandable as it is inevitable, is that they settle, failing to raise their sights beyond merely taking part. Here at Thailand 2012, three FIFA Futsal World Cup debutants have refused to succumb to that temptation.
Though no-one would have criticised Colombia, Panama or Serbia for bowing out bravely, all three have battled their way through to the round of 16, and the Europeans advanced as group winners. For Serbia coach Aca Kovacevic, the basis for that achievement was arriving at the tournament not as wide-eyed newcomers, but as a team with belief and a clear purpose.
“Although being here was already a success for us, winning the group was not a total surprise,” he told FIFA.com. “In fact, that was our goal all along. This might be our first time at this tournament, but Serbia have participated in every major futsal competition since 2006 except for the 2008 World Cup.”
A similar mindset was evidently preached by the Colombia coach, although Areny Fonnegra admitted that even his pre-tournament expectations had been surpassed. As he explained: “Prior to the tournament, we felt we had a chance of going through to the second round. But we thought we would do it as one of the best third-placed teams, not by finishing second. So this achievement is very satisfying. It’s nice to know that we’re giving joy to our country by making a bit of history.”
Panama, drawn in a group with futsal powerhouses Spain and Iran, arrived in Thailand with a more modest outlook. Yet it seems that tasting success in the group phase has merely whetted their players’ appetite for a great deal more.
“I would be lying if I tell you I am not a little bit surprised of how thing turned for us,” admitted Miguel Lasso, the team’s No9. “We believed in ourselves but this was our first World Cup, so we were not 100 per cent sure about what we would face. But now that we are through, we want to go as far as possible. Playing in the final would be nice!”
Now that really would be something, particularly when one considers that Panama have been rewarded for reaching the last 16 with a match against the holders. “They are one of the best teams in the world, and probably the best Brazilian team ever,” acknowledged Lasso. “But they are men just like us. With God’s help, we can win.”
Serbia, meanwhile, will hope to benefit not from divine intervention, but from the absence in Argentina’s side of two world-class players in Matias Lucuix and Cristian Burruto. “I was very sorry to see what happened to the No3,” said Kovacevic, referring to Luicuix’s double leg-break. “But even though two of their best player won’t play, we expect Argentina to be as competitive as always. It will be an interesting match to watch.”
Colombia’s meeting with Iran promises to be a similarly intriguing affair, and Fonnegra is confident that he has spotted a key weakness in the west Asians’ armoury. He said: “If you compare Iran to Russia, the Iranian players are a bit slower, so the idea will be to utilise the speed and technical ability of our players. The key elements to the game for us will be concentration, composure and lots of patience.”
Whether Colombia and their fellow newcomers will make it through to the last eight remains to be seen. But there is one certainty: there will be no resting on laurels.