As they prepare for the short trip to Brazil, Argentina's beach-soccer playing brothers Ezequiel, Santiago and Federico Hilaire took time out to share their thoughts with FIFA.com. The talented trio also sent out a warning to their opponents at the upcoming FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, saying: "We're aiming to bring home the title."
Brothers ought to stick together,
So says the First Law.
Let their bond be strong
During every waking moment,
Lest they fight amongst themselves
And fall prey to those outside.
The words of Martin Fierro, a classic character in Argentina's rich tradition of Gaucho poetry, symbolise the importance placed on brotherhood in the South American country. On the eve of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 it appears that the Argentine coaching staff have taken this lesson thoroughly to heart. For the second year in a row brothers Ezequiel, Santiago and Federico Hilaire will form the backbone of coach Francisco Petrasso's Albiceleste team as they bid for glory on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
Same family, different roles
Shortly before setting off on the short but eagerly awaited trip to Brazil, the Hilaire brothers kindly agreed to chat to FIFA.com. During the conversation, which took place at the Argentine Football Association's (AFA) building in Ezeiza, it quickly became clear the differing roles each sibling plays in the national team set-up.
Ezequiel is the team's captain and undisputed figurehead, which is perhaps why Santiago (25) and Federico (22) listen respectfully as their older brother holds forth on the challenges ahead. "I broke into the national team six years ago and started bringing these guys in later on. We'd previously thought of playing 11-a-side together, but we were already a bit old. We stumbled upon this plan B and are thoroughly enjoying it. Not only is it a great game to play, but it's given us the chance to represent Argentina," explains the 27-year-old midfielder, who is just one year away from completing a law degree.
Santiago meanwhile, who studies public relations, is clearly the family joker. Out on the pitch, however, the defender is certainly no clown, complementing his steely man-marking skills with a fearsome strike that helped him top the team's scoring charts during qualifying. "I admit it. I played a few jokes during qualifying, but I'm the best out of us three, aren't I!" he cries, causing all three siblings to burst into raucous laughter.
Time for older brother Ezequiel to explain further: "We're all very different. Santiago strikes the ball really cleanly, which is why he gets a lot of goals, while Federico is a very skilful forward player. We all bring our own strengths to the mix."
Federico, for his part, is most definitely the quietest member of the Hilaire contingent. The gifted front-runner, currently taking a degree in film studies, has been part of the national team set-up for two years now, although he still hangs on every word his older brother has to say. "Ezequiel is the biggest talker, but you'd expect that. He does occasionally let fly with the odd harsh comment when he wants us to step it up a notch, but that's as far as it goes. We don't bring any family problems out onto the pitch."
We're aiming to bring home the title
As the conversation turns to Rio de Janeiro, the Hilaire clan swiftly change their tone to one of eager anticipation. They know that they have a great opportunity to improve on their performance back in 2005, where they lost out to Brazil at the quarter-final stage. "For the first time we've been able to get a lengthy period of uninterrupted preparation behind us, and we're in better shape because of it," reveals Ezequiel. "With the exception of Brazil, who are a class apart, there's not much to choose between the rest of the teams involved. We're aiming to win the title, but depending on how we're feeling on the day of each match, we could easily end up missing out. A place on the podium would be a respectable performance."
Lining up against the Albicelestes in Group D will be Italy, Nigeria, and Bahrain, although Santiago confesses to knowing little about his side's forthcoming opponents. "We've seen the Italians in action, and they've got a good team and an outstanding player in (Gianni) Fruzzetti. While they are a dangerous side, they're no better than us," the goal-scoring defender says confidently. "As for Nigeria, we imagine that they've got a physically powerful side which is perhaps lacking a bit of tactical discipline. Bahrain must be good too if they managed to beat Japan, who came fourth at the last World Cup."
Skipper Ezequiel agrees with his brother and explains that "a lot of outfits share similar characteristics to their 11-a-side national teams. From that we imagine that the African sides are very strong while the Asians are likely to be quick. As for ourselves, in typical Argentine style, we're organised, strong and have a sprinkling of technically gifted individuals."
With the interview drawing to a close the brothers give their verdict on Francisco Petrasso, their former team-mate and current national team coach. "We're friends and have known each other for years. We go out for meals and celebrate our birthdays together, but we know that he's in a position of authority now and fully respect that. He's very open and always willing to talk things through," underlines Federico, who also reveals that "despite our friendship, Pancho makes those decisions that he feels are right (for the team). That's something I know all too well after I was dropped during qualifying."
Joining the brothers over on Brazilian soil will be parents Horacio and Maria Elena, who are all set to cheer their boys to even greater heights on the sands of Copacabana beach. For Argentina, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 is turning out to be a distinctly family affair…