All good things come to those who wait, or so the saying goes. The last time Argentina appeared in the last four of the FIFA Futsal World Cup was at Chinese Taipei 2004, 12 years ago.
Their failure to advance beyond the quarter-finals in the intervening years is in stark contrast to multiple champions Spain and Brazil, with whom they share the honour of participating at every Futsal World Cup. However, La Albiceleste, runners-up at the 2016 CONMEBOL qualifying competition, have a different, more determined look about them this time around, as does their captain, Fernando Wilhelm.
At Colombia 2016, everything has clicked into place, and the South American skipper, who is appearing at his fourth Futsal World Cup, is well-placed to explain why. “Argentina have always had good enough players to go far, but it was the little things that went against us. We have a new coach and a new system that suits us perfectly and finally makes the most of our potential,” Wilhelm told FIFA.com, referring to his ex-team-mate, Diego Giustozzi.
“He’s young and able to get his message across better. There’s no barrier between him and us. That makes dialogue a bit easier. In fact, Diego talks a lot,” he added.
The Buenos Aires native has clearly not felt the need to deliver all that many inspiring team talks himself, given the strong results he and his compatriots have achieved thus far. The well-balanced side is a tight-knit unit, both on and off the pitch.
“I talk when I need to talk, but I must admit that my role of captain is easy – the players know when they have to get down to work, and when they can have some fun,” said the Benfica star, who did exert his authority after Argentina’s comprehensive 5-0 victory over Egypt on Sunday, requesting that his team-mates keep their music down as they left the changing rooms.
Loud music is part of Argentina’s pre-match ritual, putting the players in the right mood and motivating them for the challenge ahead. Nobody puts their headphones on; it is a collective experience, much like their post-match ritual, when they huddle together and sing. “We always sing as noisily as we can, even if we’ve lost,” said the 34-year-old. “The words reflect our desire to give everything we can for our country. It’s also a way of connecting with our fans and giving ourselves a boost of energy.”
And energy will be essential in their next encounter, where they face a strong Portugal side. “You just have to look at the results at this World Cup to see that most of the teams are at about the same level. If I had had to hand-pick our semi-final opponents, I wouldn’t have known who to go for,” said Wilhelm, who has turned closing down players – and thereby slowing down counter-attacks – into something of an art form.
“You shouldn’t adapt to your opponents’ style,” he continued. "The important thing for us is to stick to the pressing and possession game that has become part of our identity. We want to leave the smallest amount of room possible for improvisation.”
Portuguese goal-machine Ricardinho has been given fair warning, then: on Wednesday in Cali, he and his team-mates are going to find space at a premium. “Playing against Ricardinho is going to be a great challenge,” concluded Wilhelm. “His reputation is justified. He’s a great asset for the sport of futsal, but we’re not going to worry too much about him. In any case, Portugal have other dangerous players.”