Russia’s recent form made them one of the favourites alongside Brazil and Spain going into the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012. Thus far, Sergey Skorovich’s side have lived up to expectations.
A crushing 16-0 win in their Group F opener against the Solomon Islands was followed by a 9-0 thrashing of Guatemala, securing the Russians a place in the second round and sending out a warning to the competition. Their 25 goals is the highest tally in the tournament after the first two games and speaks of a top-class attack, while rock-solid goalkeeper Gustavo has ensured they are the only side to keep a clean sheet this deep into the competition.
It is an incredible start and suggests the Russians are deadly serious about their title challenge but, speaking to FIFA.com, coach Skorovich was keen to play down the pressure: “We’re doing a professional job and we don’t feel any expectations.”
“The real favourites are Spain,” he added. “Spain are champions of Europe and Brazil are the world champions. We’re not the favourites: they are.”
The 39-year-old coach’s words may be a tactic to relieve his charges of the pressure that expectation brings but he insists that despite their first two effortless Group F victories, Russia still have serious obstacles to overcome in Thailand: “We’ve played two excellent games so far, but then again our opponents weren’t so strong and I expect things to go up a level in the next round.”
We’ve played two excellent games so far, but then again our opponents weren’t so strong and I expect things to go up a level in the next round.
“I can’t say we won’t be challenged,” said the man with ten years of futsal coaching behind him, “because every side we face has its strong points. The Solomon Islands were definitely easier than Guatemala, who took us into extra time back in 2010.”
The big tournaments always come with their own challenges, but Skorovich, who led Russia to second place at this year’s UEFA European Futsal Championship in Croatia, faces them with an innate good humour and straightforwardness.
His cheerful disposition came to the fore when he talked about his discovery that Spain coach Venanciao Lopez was taking a close interest in the outcome of the Russia-Guatemala match. “He’s a friend of mine,” said Skorovich, “and I saw him buying tickets!”
But his expansive mood soon changed when talk turned to his team’s ambitions at Thailand 2012. “We always have to do our best,” he stated: “Our goal is to make the final.”
And what does he think of the tournament so far? “There haven’t been a lot of closely fought games,” he said. “The Argentina-Italy encounter might be the closest to date. But the important games are still to come.”
Skorovich was quick to reply when asked about his own team and his feelings about coaching them: “When we’ve won the World Cup we can meet again and I’ll answer that question!”
So the inscrutable coach clearly intends to keep his cards close to his chest. If we want an answer, we will have to wait until November 18 to see if Russia can win the title at Thailand 2012.