Salvadoran Romario raring to go
El Salvador’s Frank Velasquez can barely conceal his excitement at being in Italy, where he is preparing to take part in his second FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Indeed, despite the pressure on the 21-year-old’s shoulders as the Salvadorans’ recognised dangerman here at Ravenna 2011, a confident smile is never far away from Velasquez’s lips.
That confidence is well-founded given his performances at the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where the sharpshooter topped the scorers’ charts with 12 goals from five games and was voted the competition’s best player. Yet Velasquez is perhaps even prouder of a less conventional feat achieved in April this year at the first ever Mundialito de Clubes in Sao Paulo.
“I was drafted by the Seattle Sounders and in the early training sessions I scored a few goals by shooting with the toe of my boot,” said the No11 to FIFA.com. “When he saw that, the gaffer [Brazilian coach Marcelo Mendes] started calling me Romario. And because I’m also short and have the same skin tone as him, it helped the nickname stick – which of course I’m happy about!”
The aforementioned Mundialito also enabled Velasquez to add lustre to his growing reputation on the beach soccer scene. His side’s leading scorer with five goals in five games in the Sounders’ run to the last eight, when they went out on penalties against Brazil’s Flamengo, the rising star took full advantage of playing with and against some of the best players in the world.
These included members of the Portugal squad set to face El Salvador in their opening Group B game on 1 September. “I played against the likes of Madjer, Alan and Belchior, who besides being top-class have a huge amount of experience on the sand. I learned a lot from them,” said Velasquez, who was capped by El Salvador at U-17 level in the 11-a-side game.
Given he only started playing beach soccer by chance, having stumbled upon a local tournament and thinking it would be fun to join in, the youngster has progressed remarkably quickly to his current status as El Salvador’s main man. However, though the Salvadorans are set to take part in their third consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, they failed to win a single game on their two previous trips to the finals.
So, can a few Romario-esque strikes from Velasquez help fire his country to their maiden win at the competition? “El Salvador have taken part in the World Cup twice before, and we had the chance to learn a bit more about how beach soccer is played on other continents,” said Velasquez as the interview concluded. “So I think that now’s the time for us to take a step further.”