Even though he has turned 35 and has a 15-year professional career behind him, Venezuela captain Jose Falcon admits he has nerves ahead of the upcoming South American qualifying competition for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016.
“I suppose it’s only natural, even when you are experienced,” Falcon told FIFA.com. “Venezuela will always have the opportunity to play in their first World Cup, but this is the very last chance for me. If I can help make it happen this year and in Colombia, which is a special place, then it would make me very happy.”
What is it that makes Colombia so special for the experienced veteran? “I spent two seasons with Real Bucaramanga, one of the cities that’s hosting the event,” said Cheo, a common nickname in Venezuela for anyone called Jose. “They really love their futsal there and in Medellin, and I know they can’t wait for the tournament to come around. The atmosphere is going to be fantastic.”
A powerful presence on the court and adept at using his body to shield the ball, Falcon, now with Guerreros de Lago, is fondly remembered in Bucaramanga, where he won two championships and was the league’s top scorer in 2015, a season in which the club was coached by his compatriot and current Venezuela boss Eudo Villalobos.
“We chat with El Profe now and again and it would be really nice to go back there as part of the World Cup. The friends we have there say they’d make us feel right at home, but I’m not so sure,” he joked, alluding to the sporting rivalry between the two neighbouring countries.
“More than anything else though, it would be really great for Venezuelan futsal,” continued the softly spoken Falcon. “The sport has grown a tremendous amount in the last few years with the professional league and with support coming from different areas. Reaching the World Cup now, when it’s right next door, would take the sport forward on every level. It should serve as a motivation for us too.”
A two-time Copa Merconorte winner and a three-time Copa Libertadores finalist with three different teams, Falcon is aware of the scale of the challenge Venezuela face when the qualifying competition gets under way in Paraguay on 5 February.
His side’s first task is to earn a semi-final place by finishing in the top two in Group A. Should they make the last four, one of South America’s three World Cup slots will be theirs if they can win their semi, unless hosts Colombia also advance from the group phase, in which case all four semi-finalists will progress to the world finals.
A Deportivo Tachira fan who never aspired to play 11-a-side football, Falcon sized up Venezuela’s first-round opponents: “We start off against five-time world champions Brazil, who are the red-hot favourites despite the fact they’ll be without Falcao.” Trying to look on the bright side, he added: “The good thing is they’ll be a yardstick for us and will show us where we stand. It’s also better to be facing them first than when qualification is at stake.
“Then come Paraguay, who are the home team, with everything that involves,” he added. “We think they’re the team we need to beat, but we’ve learned our lesson from the last qualifying competition, when we identified Colombia as our direct opponents. We beat them but went and lost to Uruguay and Paraguay and missed out on a place in the semis. That’s why we’ll be taking our last two games against Peru and Ecuador just as seriously.”
Falcon is anxious to avoid the experience he went through four years ago, when he looked on with regret as the closing stages of the 2012 world finals unfolded in Thailand: “I couldn’t help thinking that we could have been there because we’d beaten Colombia in the qualifiers. They ended up finishing fourth, and I found it hard to take.”
The difference this time is that Venezuela have a little more experience under their belts: “Venezuelan players have now contested five professional league championships in the country. The squad contains people who’ve played abroad and a few of the boys have also had success at youth level. I think we’re mature enough now and we have the mindset we need. The time is right for us.”