As afternoon descends in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, the Paraguay squad are eager to make the most of their first period of downtime to relax by their hotel pool. They may only have enough time for a quick dip, as the South Americans are just days away from making their FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup debut, but the respite is more than welcome.
Coach Cayo Villalba has formed a close-knit group, from which Edgar Barreto takes time out to speak with FIFA.com. The 25-year-old is the second-youngest member of the squad, which is perhaps why his first answer is surprisingly open.
“How am I finding it here?” he said, looking at the idyllic landscape. “To be honest, I’m still trying to take it all in. I never imagined it would be so beautiful, which is why it’s good to enjoy it a little bit and keep calm ahead of our first game.”
That is easier said than done, as Barreto readily admits: “You can feel that everyone’s getting increasingly impatient for the tournament to start. As a group we’re trying to keep things under control because it would be a shame for something to happen after all our hard work.”
La Albirroja stunned many observers at the South American qualifying championship, handing Brazil their first defeat at the competition in the semi-finals and simultaneously booking their ticket to Tahiti 2013.
“It’s true, that victory helped give us a lot of confidence,” said Barreto, who has been playing beach soccer since 2005. “However, a World Cup is something completely different, which is why we’re not thinking about that game now.”
Nevertheless, the triumph over the four-time world champions did not go unnoticed, and may mean Paraguay are no longer such a surprise package. “I don’t know about that, we’ll see,” said Barreto. “We know that maybe we’re not as technically strong as other sides, but we never give up. We’re a very close team and you can be sure we’ll make life hard for anyone.”
From grass to sand
Barreto, who also plays for 11-a-side outfit President Hayes in the Paraguayan second division, was close to foregoing participation in Tahiti due to his club commitments. “We’re fighting for promotion,” said the attacker, who is still uncertain what path his future career will take. “That’s why I almost didn’t come. My family persuaded me in the end.”
Having touched down in French Polynesia, however, his only thoughts are concerned with Paraguay’s group stage opponents. “I’m not sure if Japan, Côte d'Ivoire or Russia know anything about us but I have the feeling they might have underestimated us,” said Barreto, who has a six-year-old daughter. “We believe in our own ability, and with humility and sacrifice we can go a long way.”
Pressed for just how far, Barreto elaborated: “As far as playing in the final on the 28th, which is when I turn 26. To be honest, it would be a failure if we don’t make it out of the group stage, and we’re not thinking about third or fourth place either - which would be a good achievement in itself - but we’re aiming to make the final. I just hope our confidence doesn’t come back to haunt us.”