Though Spain had just beaten Italy 4-1 in the semi-finals of Thailand 2012, first-choice keeper Juanjo strode out the dressing room to meet FIFA.com as if he was still out on court: on his toes, focused and ready for anything.
Yet his features did reflect the relief that goes with a job well done, now that La Roja are safely in the final for the fifth consecutive edition of the showpiece competition. There, they will once again face holders Brazil, who defeated them in a shoot-out in the 2008 decider.
“There’s no doubt this gives us the chance for revenge for the last World Cup, an opportunity for us to set the record straight,” said the custodian. “We know they’re a great side, but this team is ready to, at the very least, try and beat them,” he added humbly.
Patience pays off
There is no false modesty in Juanjo’s words, since keeping a low profile is one of the main traits of the 27-year-old from Cieza. Another is patience, with the gifted shotstopper having waited a long time to step out from the shadow of Spain predecessor Luis Amado, who recently retired from international duty with two FIFA Futsal World Cup triumphs and one runners-up place under his belt.
“Of course it’s not easy and you feel the pressure,” admitted Juanjo, back-up to Amado at Brazil 2008. “After everything that Luis won and how much he shaped the goalkeeper’s role in futsal, I knew I’d have to live with getting compared to him. But fortunately things are going well for me and I’m hoping to stick around for a long time.”
They’re great going forward and score lots of goals, but I think we’re stronger physically and we go into the game with more momentum.
His extraordinary display in the 3-2 quarter-final win against Russia aside, when he was regularly called upon to perform heroics, Juanjo is known for being able to stay alert despite often having relatively little to do. “I can’t take all the credit, it also has a lot to do with my team-mates,” said the keeper, on the widespread praise received for this very quality.
“But of course, any personal recognition boosts your morale and encourages you to keep improving. It feels good,” added the No12, who does not intend to switch to the No1 shirt despite his current first-choice status.
Peaking at the right time
“Why should it have surprised me?” answered Juanjo, when asked if he had expected Spain to put in quite such a solid display in their semi-final. “This team always rises to the occasion in big games. Perhaps we didn’t find our best form against Iran, but we did against Russia and Italy. Whoever’s watched this team over the past ten years knows we’ve been in all the finals, and all the while staying true to our identity.”
In the keeper’s view, one of the main factors in this sustained success lies in the squad’s mental strength. “Playing with the pressure of always being contenders is a burden, because you can’t afford any slip-ups and there are more and more teams capable of beating you,” said Juanjo, who made his senior Spain debut in 2006. “It’s not easy to stay at the top, but here we are, back in another title decider.”
When pressed on giving his insider verdict on the two teams’ comparative strengths, La Selección’s No12 does not beat around the bush: “They’re great going forward and score lots of goals, but I think we’re stronger physically and we go into the game with more momentum, since we’ve just played two of the other title contenders.”
Nor does the keeper expect Sunday’s final in Bangkok to be a particularly free-flowing contest. “I’d love it to be open, but it could well be a very tight game, due to the respect the two teams have for each other,” said Juanjo, before signing off by saying just how much winning the trophy would mean to him.
“It’s my greatest dream, particularly since I didn’t play in [Spain’s win in] 2004 and we lost the final in 2008. And beating Brazil to do that, well, that would make winning the title an even more beautiful achievement.”