Gifted South Americans face up to new challenges
The semi-finals at the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004 featured Europe v South America duels, and it was the Europeans who came out on top in both. However, any notion that European futsal is pulling clear of its South American cousin falls down after reviewing the tournament as a whole. The world's best teams are a hair's breadth apart, and neither Brazil nor Argentina need be concerned about their future in the sport. FIFA.com looks back on the tournament from the pair's standpoint.
Brazil: Time for a shake-up
For most of the tournament, Brazil appeared to be marching unstoppably to their fourth world crown. The prodigious strikeforce blasted 39 goals in the first six matches as defences found no answer to Falcao and company's clinical finishing. Arguably one of the most entertaining teams of all time demolished Australia 10-0, Thailand 9-1 and the Czech Republic 4-1 to cruise into the second round, where they secured three more comfortable victories, 6-0 against Ukraine, 2-1 over Argentina and an 8-5 goal festival against the USA.
"The Brazilians have fantastic players," admired Spain boss Javier Lozano before the sides met in the last four. However, in that semi, coach Ferretti's men were forced into the painful realisation that individual skill alone is not enough at the highest level. Lozano's brilliantly organised side turned in a perfect team performance and then gratefully accepted the good fortune on offer in the shoot-out.
Afterwards, Ferretti pointed the finger at his players' failure to breach the Spanish back line more than twice. Manoel Tobias and Fininho were consigned to the bench and took a broadside from the boss: "They're both big names in futsal, but you don't get a place in the team for that. They're both hugely experienced, but it wasn't necessary to send them out today. They've come up against their limits."
Ferretti felt let down by his strikers: "We combined well in attack against the strong Spanish defence, but we weren't good enough in front of goal to win the game. A shoot-out is always a lottery." The coach contemplated a new reality afterwards: "We've seen today that it's no longer enough to have the best strikers. Those days are gone; the evidence was there for all to see." For the future, Brazil need to deploy a new blend of individual ability, impeccable organisation and better tactical understanding, with defence likely to play a much more prominent role.
Argentina: Bright future beckons for Albiceleste
Disappointment was etched on the features of Argentina coach Fernando Larrañaga following the 7-4 defeat against Italy. "We made a terrible start today and went two goals down early on, just as we did against Brazil. My players were nervous and began to lose belief in themselves. We made mistakes today which we normally never make."
The coach will likely recover his good humour in a day or two as he knows he can be proud of his team at the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004. Argentina came eighth in Guatemala 2000 but won the Copa America in 2003 and have now sealed a place in the world's top four. The best defensive line at the event saw Argentina easily overcome Cuba, Portugal and Iran in the first round. In the six matches up to the semi-finals, they conceded only four goals: one against Iran, one against the USA and two against Brazil. However, a lack of experience showed against the fast-starting Italians.
Confronted with an early deficit, Argentina were forced to abandon their defensive principles, leaving them vulnerable to counter-attacks. Larrañaga's summary was still upbeat: "We've achieved our primary goal of reaching the semi-finals. We then set ourselves a new target but fell short. I don't think there's a lot of difference between the top four teams. It's all decided in the mind nowadays."
A sleeping giant of international futsal seems poised to wake up then, and the Albiceleste will surely be a force at major events in the foreseeable future. The Argentine style, bristling with aggression and tight man-marking in keeping with the country's long-established footballing traditions, is bound to trouble many of the big names in this generation. Moreover, Argentine can play on the break from their strong defensive platform, swiftly changing focus from defence to attack.