Argentina can justifiably claim to being one of beach soccer's pioneers. In 1993 the Albiceleste were one of four teams, the others being the USA, Brazil and Italy, that took part in the sport's first professional competition in Miami. And just like many other nations in those formative years, Argentina bolstered their ranks with former international stars. Lining up in Miami were none other than Sergio Goycochea and Julio Olarticoechea, members of the squad that reached the Final at the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™.
The South Americans were also involved in all the unofficial
Beach Soccer World Championships from 1995. Their best finish was
third place in 2001 at Costa do Sauipe in Brazil, where they even
had the temerity to beat the host nation in their final game. The
Auriverde would have their revenge at the FIFA Beach
Soccer World Cup 2005, eliminating their fierce rivals at the
Argentina returned to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro in 2006, now with coach Francisco Petrasso at the helm, though the last eight again proved too big a hurdle. Having beaten Nigeria, Bahrain and Italy in the group stage, Argentina fell 2-1 to near-neighbours Uruguay in a bad-tempered quarter-final clash. The Albiceleste will feel the 2007 showpiece is their chance to break that glass ceiling, and reach the last four or beyond.
Fielding a much-changed team, with seven players hit by suspension, coach Petrasso put his faith in a new group of players to secure a place at Rio de Janeiro 2007. In the event, a comfortable 4-1 win over Venezuela in Acapulco, Mexico, was enough to secure their ticket to Brazil, after Uruguay had beaten the same opponents in the second round of matches.
Their involvement on the sands of Copacabana in November now assured, Argentina said goodbye to their title aspirations in Acapulco after losing a seven-goal thriller to the Charrúas. Nevertheless, it was still mission accomplished for coach Petrasso and his on-field lieutenants Santiago and Ezequiel Hilaire.
Now 37, Hector Francisco Petrasso has accumulated a wealth of beach soccer experience. The Argentinian strategist, now in his second year in charge, knows exactly how it feels to compete on the Copacabana, having represented the Albiceleste at Rio de Janeiro 2005. Twelve months later, this time as coach, he came mightily close to leading his team into the semi-finals.
That feat has been targeted by Petrasso for this year's event, who has at his disposal a number of his former team-mates. "We know these lads very well and some of them were team-mates of mine. We understand each other and respect each others' roles. The most important thing is that we all want what's best for the team," he explains.
The years and tournaments come and go but the backbone of the Argentina team remains intact. Brothers Santiago and Ezequiel Hilaire, the two eldest of a trio of beach-soccer playing siblings, remain key figures in a national team determined to improve their standing in the sport.
No.10 Ezequiel, who will be 28 at the time of this year's competition, is the squad's most experienced player. Santiago, who wears No.2, combines typical South American defensive grit with an opportunistic eye for goal. Both were invited to represent a "Rest of the World" team in an exhibition match against Brazil back in January 2007.
What they said...
"We've worked hard since the last World Cup and we've got through the tricky period caused by so many suspended players. Fortunately, the suspensions are drawing to a close and we'll have more players available ahead of this year's tournament. We're very very good defensively, and in Rio de Janeiro I'll think we'll also have plenty of attacking potential." Francisco Petrasso, Argentina coach.