For the first time in the history of the Pan-American games, futsal featured on the programme of events. And the favourites to take the honours in the tournament held in Rio de Janeiro, the home city of some of the sport's finest exponents, were none other than world futsal powerhouses Brazil.
With the mercurial Falcao in sublime form, the Seleção duly underlined their continental superiority by claiming the gold medal with ease, sweeping aside Argentina 4-1 in the final. Despite being outclassed by the hosts, the Albicelestes had every reason to be satisfied with silver, while Paraguay completed the podium by seeing off Costa Rica 6-5 after extra time in the bronze-medal match.
"This is a special moment for us and for Brazilian
futsal," declared man of the moment Falcao. "We're
fighting to increase its popularity here and I think we're on
the right track. This title goes to all the generations who are
coming up behind us."
The left-footed wizard, widely considered the best player in the world, ended the competition as top scorer with seven goals, taking his international career haul to 198. "It would have been lovely to celebrate 200 goals here in Rio, but the medal was the important thing," added the 30-year-old wingman.
Brazil were in imperious form throughout, winning every game, scoring more goals than any other side (26) while also letting in fewer, a miserly two in five games. "It was a high-quality tournament and we saw some sides who are really coming on and others who are getting back to their best, like Paraguay. And that's great for world futsal," explained fellow Brazilian sharpshooter Vinicius, who finished joint-second in the scoring charts on six goals, alongside Costa Rica's Daniel Soleras. Other standout performers for the champions were Marquinho with five goals and the ever-impressive Rogerio in goal.
Speaking after his side's triumph, Seleção coach Paulo Cesar de Oliveira spoke of Brazil's goals for the future. "These games were our first step, but the project goes on. We've now got our eyes on the 2008 World Championship, which will be held here. That's our main objective."
Argentina happy, Paraguay improving
As their coach Fernando Larranaga acknowledged, Argentina's silver medal was reward for a job well done. "This is what we came for and we're happy about that. Brazil are still a step ahead of everyone else but I reckon we're closing the gap."
One of the many plus points for the Argentinians was the return after a three-year absence of several members of the old guard, among them long-standing Albiceleste skipper Carlos Sanchez. "We were very competitive, and I'm delighted because we're better than when we first appeared on the scene," commented the 29-year-old linchpin.
Third-placed Paraguay secured their country's only medal at Rio de Janeiro. Under the tutelage of experienced Brazilian coach Fernando Ferretti, the young Guaraní squad was solid at the back and effective up front, with 20-year-old pivot Jose Ortiz notching four goals in all. "We started the job of returning Paraguay to its rightful position in South American and world futsal just three months ago," said Ferretti. "This medal gives us all the encouragement we need to keep on improving."
Two sides who just missed out on the medals were Costa Rica and USA. Led by 22-year-old goal-getter Soleras and three-goal winger Adonay Vindas, just two years his senior, the Ticos were the second-highest scoring side in the tournament, and after grabbing a draw against Argentina in the group phase, they were edged out in the bronze-medal match by Paraguay in extra time.
The North Americans, meanwhile, finished fifth with a squad made up entirely of home-based players. With veterans Patrick Morris, Denison Cabral and Matthew Stewart leading the way with three goals apiece, the Stars and Stripes were only denied a semi-final spot on goal difference.