Falcao was to futsal what Babe Ruth was to baseball, Muhammad Ali was to boxing, Dale Earnhardt was to stock car racing, Michael Jordan was to basketball and Jonoh Lomu was to rugby union – not just arguably the greatest practitioner in his sport’s history, but someone who gave it an almighty popularity hike via incomparable showmanship.
Youtube footage of the Brazilian’s jaw-dropping trickery and preposterous goals had seen futsal rocket from football’s anonymous baby brother into one of the fastest-growing sports on the planet. Yet as fans drooled over watching the sixth edition of the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2008, Falcao, a potent vacuum of individual awards over the previous half-decade, dreaded exiting the tournament having taken a potentially fatal step towards retiring having never become a world champion.
At his first FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2000, the cheery Paulista had co-starred in a side headlined by Manoel Tobias, which scored a whopping 75 goals and conceded just ten in seven matches en route to the final. There, however, Brazil’s consummate monopoly of the competition was ended by Spain. Four years later Falcao swaggered to the adidas Golden Ball and adidas Golden Shoe awards, but once again the canary-yellow dream was erased by Iberian red, this time in the semi-finals.
Now there was a consensus that this would be the 31-year-old’s last crack at gold. And if that wasn’t sufficient pressure on the shoulders that had shimmied opponent aplenty into submission, Falcao had to do it in front of Brazil’s own, ultra-demanding fans.
F12 and A Seleção nevertheless got off to a start, winning all four of their Group A games, scoring 49 – 11 courtesy of their talisman – and conceding just one in the process. Falcao then netted a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over Ukraine that secured Brazil Group E’s ticket to the semi-finals, before he was again on target in a 4-2 win over Russia that sent Paulo de Oliveira’s court wizards into the decider. Facing them, five years ago to this Saturday at the Maracanazinho in Rio de Janeiro, would be that old nemesis Spain.
The first period was extremely tight, but when brilliance did flicker, it was via the feet of Falcao. First, he duped two Spaniards with a double-drag-back, before nutmegging a third, only to finally run out of room. Then Falcao’s outrageous back-heel forced Luis Amado into a fine save.
After a goalless first half, Marquinho finally put Brazil ahead on 24 minutes, only for Torras to quickly restore parity for Spain. Then disaster struck for the hosts: Falcao limped off with a twisted ankle. The game ultimately finished 2-2, leaving a penalty shootout to decide whether the man widely regarded as futsal’s greatest-ever performer would lift its biggest prize – and, agonisingly for the injured No12, he was powerless to dictate its outcome. Fortunately for Falcao, four of his team-mates converted penalties and another, substitute goalkeeper Franklin, saved two of Spain’s. Falcao was finally a world champion.
“I was so, so nervous at the end,” said Falcao afterwards. “It’s even more nerve-wracking when you’re not out there playing. My heart was beating fast but we managed to hang on and beat Spain in just the same way they beat us back in 2004.
“It makes me feel tremendously happy because it's something I've been trying to achieve with the national side for 12 years. It's also come at a special time in a special place – here in Brazil, in front of our families. The feeling is just incredible.
“I feel fulfilled now. Four years ago I won all the individual awards but I was desperate to be world champion. Now that I've won the title, the player of the tournament award and finished second-top scorer, it's too much. I couldn’t have asked for more.”