The first phase of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008 is drawing to a close and, for those who wish to prolong their stay in the elite competition, slip-ups must be avoided at any cost. Paraguay knew just that prior to taking on tournament surprise packages Thailand, but the Albirroja kept their nerve to dole out an 8-0 futsal lesson, the most one-sided scoreline in Group B so far.
Starring for the Guaraníes was Rene Villalba, who racked up four goals and an assist against the Thais. "I think that I've scored four goals in a qualifying match before, but what matters is that the team won and qualification for the next phase is in our hands," the 27-year-old wide player said exclusively to FIFA.com.
Boasting six points from their three matches so far, Paraguay need a win over Chinese Taipei 2004 runners-up Italy to stay in the competition. The Azzurri, for their part, have taken maximum points from their three outings and have history in their favour.
Twice the two national teams have met in the first group phase at a FIFA Futsal World Cup, and on both occasions Italy emerged victorious, 7-5 at Hong Kong 1992 and 4-2 at Chinese Taipei 2004. Not that Villalba is unduly concerned: "The statistics also said we lost our two previous games against the United States, and yet we we beat them here (5-0)."
Sleeping with the enemy
Spice is also added to the forthcoming clash by the fact that half the Albirroja squad play their club futsal in Italy. Indeed, Villalba himself just won the Serie A1 title with Luparense, where he shares a dressing room with several players sure to line up against him on Wednesday.
"Yes, we know each other well and that's why it'll be a great game to play in. But they must be more anxious than we are," says Paraguay's top scorer with six goals so far. "We're going to approach the game in relaxed mood while staying totally focused, because whoever makes the most mistakes will lose."
The son of a former eleven-a-side footballer who played most of his professional career with Cerro Porteno, Rene is the third of four brothers, all of whom play futsal. In fact, the quartet even played together a few seasons ago in Italy for Reggio Calabria. And at Chinese Taipei 2004, he was part of the Paraguay squad alongside older brothers Carlos and Walter, with the latter also here in Brazil.
The free-scoring wide man feels that Italy will find the Guaraníes an altogether tougher prospect than in the 4-2 reverse four years ago. "Paraguay have made a lot of progress in recent years. At that moment in time, my team-mates and I had only just moved to Europe so we had less experience. Nowadays things have changed and that makes a difference."
That said, Villalba is aware the Albirroja are the underdogs going into tomorrow's game. "We've seen articles that have claimed Italy are already safely through, but I think they're going to find taking this last step very difficult," warns the Luparense man.
"That's because nowadays we capable of going toe-to-toe with any opponents. And what's more, if we do make it through, we're ready to spring more surprises."