Leandro Planas: "A physical and mental battle"
Since the start of the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004, one team has provoked particular debate. Seen by some as too defensive, Argentina are nevertheless currently well placed to go through to the semi-finals. A few hours before their decisive match with Ukraine, FIFA.com spoke to their defender, Leandro Planas.
FIFA.com: Leandro, how would you assess Argentina's start to the tournament?
Leandro Planas: In the first round, we knew that we should be able to go through with Portugal, but we also knew that our group would be very tough as we also had to face Iran, a team who always seem to cause us problems. In the end, not only did we achieve our objective, we also won the group, which was great.
In the second round, goal difference was always likely to be important. We knew that Brazil had plenty of goals in them, so we needed to win our match against the United States, at worst lose by as narrow margin as possible to Brazil, and then a draw might suffice against Ukraine. We are now very close to what would be a historic achievement for Argentine football. That's why we're keeping our feet on the ground. It will be impossible to play for the draw against Ukraine, as after two good performances out of three, we want to continue in the same vein.
What do you think of Taipei city after spending two weeks here?
I can't really say I know this city. We train where we play every day, so I can't judge it on the basis of the little outings we go on now and then around the area to stretch our legs. But I intend to do a little bit of sightseeing before returning to Argentina. One thing I can say, though, is that the gymnasiums are both excellent. And then there's the people, all the young children who come and take photos of us. They are really kind, well educated people who approach us so quietly and politely. We've also met some Argentinians who live here and have been really looking forward to this tournament. We see them at all our games, creating a fantastic atmosphere in the stands. They make us feel a little closer to home and we want to do as well as possible for them too.
What was your target before coming to this FIFA Futsal World Championship?
My aim and that of the entire team was to reach the semi-finals at least. It's not just a dream, as we've been working towards this goal since Guatemala 2000. Today, we realise that it's possible, so we'll be doing our utmost to reach the last four tonight.
Which of the sides you've played so far have impressed you most?
I would have to say Brazil, who are a cut above the rest. There's no denying it. Apart from them, Portugal have also impressed me. They play good football, make it hard for opponents and don't give the ball away cheaply. In the first half against them, they gave us a really tough time with their pressing game. But gradually, we started to find some space to hit them on the break. So even though we won (1-0), the Portuguese really impressed me.
Let's return to the Brazil game for a moment. For the first time in this tournament, they looked a bit hesitant and lacked some of their usual sparkle.
That's true, I'm not sure why. Before that game, we knew it would be very tough because our games are always tight. But once we got out on the pitch, we were a little bit surprised. They let us keep possession and waited for us in their own half of the field. Believe me, in all my 20 or 22 matches against Brazil, it's the first time I've known them not press us all over the field. It was almost as if they were a little afraid. I still haven't understood why. I guess it must have been a tactical decision by their coach.
Argentina's main strength is defence. As a defender, how do you see this characteristic?
Everyone is aware of our strong points. We like to play aggressively, defending man to man. That's a tradition of Argentine football, but even more so in futsal. When playing 11 against 11, you can have nine or ten players defending and leave one or even two up front. But in futsal, there are only four of us on the pitch (laughs). On a more serious note, our great strength really is individual defending. Our two coaches, Fernando Larrañaga and Fabian Lopez, have always taught us to play like this, and in my ten years with the national team, I've never played any other way. I think we can say that we apply their instructions well and that it's never easy to play against Argentina. This type of defending is truly exhausting, especially as, when we win the ball, our second strong point is our ability to mount rapid counter-attacks. It's certainly paying off, as we won the Copa America last year, plus the tournament in Malaysia. I hope we can keep on winning things.
Certain coaches have called Argentina's style unattractive. What do you think of this argument?
It's not worth talking about. Other coaches can say what they want, but we know we are an excellent side who can dominate opponents in a similar way to Brazil. Just look at Spain, who are the reigning world champions. Even they have not been able to impose themselves in this tournament, and against Egypt and Ukraine, even they defended deep and relied on the counter. If other teams say you play badly, what can you do? Personally, I prefer not to judge others, but I know we are a compact, serious and highly organised side. That's just the way we play the game and if people like it but we still win games, that suits me fine. Everyone's free to think what they want.
It's also been noted that your team is one of the more disciplined at this World Championship, with just one yellow card in five games.
It was me who got that yellow against Portugal, when a rebound caught me on the hand. There wasn't much I could really do about it. But that's another characteristic of our team. We are always thinking about that fifth foul on which so much can depend in futsal, so we always try to keep our cool. I can't stand aggressive teams, in the negative sense of the word.
In your opinion, who are the most important players in the Argentina team?
It's hard to single out any individuals. We can't really claim to have a truly exceptional player, as we are above all a unit. But I think one of the key components is our goalkeeper, Javier Guisande, who is really astounding. Knowing we've got him behind us gives us all tremendous confidence. Apart from him, I would have to mention our captain Carlos Sanchez, who needs no introduction from me. But I would stress this concept of a homogenous unit. We have excellent players who are fine comrades, first and foremost. We don't depend on any one player.
The winner of the match with Ukraine will qualify automatically for the semi-finals. How will you be approaching this encounter?
(Thinks carefully...) They're a team that are quite hard to work out. Against Brazil and Spain, they pressed hard at the start, but two days ago against the United States, I found them a bit below par. That's why I'm having trouble figuring them out. Technically, they are excellent and very sharp. They have to win, but so do we. Okay, a draw would be enough for us, but we want the win. I'm expecting a difficult game, as it's impossible to know how Ukraine will perform on the day and whether they'll push forward or drop back. One thing's for sure: we will be keeping a very close eye on them, as they have three very good players in their team: Pylypiv, Sytin and, of course, Koridze. It will be a real battle, both mentally and physically, for in futsal a goal can so easily change the course of the game. There will be no fourth chance. If we play well in this game, we will be in the semi-finals. Otherwise, we'll be on the plane back home.
There's a strong possibility that you might face Italy in the semi-finals. I guess that would be a bit special for many Argentines, including yourself, who play for clubs in that country.
If the match against Ukraine is going to be a battle, then if we win, a semi-final against Italy would be a war. From a football perspective, I am sure it would be a fine game. Tight, but entertaining. All the players know each other, so it would be a kind of derby, like when we play Brazil.
Do you believe Argentina are capable of winning the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004?
As I said earlier, our original aim was to reach the semi-finals. But the further you go, the more ambitious you become. Once you're in the semi-finals, there's only one thing on your mind: to get to the final and win the world title. But that's not the same thing as saying we can do it. I don't know. Fortunately, we have no injuries yet, which will start to become important. Any coach is lucky to have 14 players available at this stage.