The Spain delegation could finally breathe a huge sigh of relief. After kicking off their Group C campaign here at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 with defeat against Iran, this Sunday La Roja bounced back with a vital 3-1 win over Mexico to keep their quarter-final hopes alive. And should they safely reach the knockout phase, the world title would remain a realistic aim for the Tahiti 2013 runners-up - a squad proving a blend of youth and experience can bear impressive fruit.
Of the 12 players coach Joaquin Alonso selected for the trip to Espinho, seven are over 30 and one of them – Nico – is a genuine beach soccer legend, boasting no fewer than seven trips to Beach Soccer World Cups. “I think we’ve got a good blend. We’ve got plenty of experienced and important players such as Nico, who was utterly decisive today,” said Alonso, speaking to FIFA.com, in praise of his veteran defender, scorer of Spain’s crucial second versus El Tri.
“We’ve also got younger lads who are learning a lot from that experience [of the older players], as well as established guys like Antonio and Dona. Little by little we’re raising our expectations of the younger players, which is also a way of helping them grow.”
The 59-year-old coach has first-hand knowledge of the value of experience, having himself enjoyed a fine career in the 11-a-side game. Considered one of Sporting Gijon’s greatest ever players and a former Spanish international, unfortunately most of his current charges are too young to have seen him in action.
Some of our lads were surprised to see me, with a huge moustache, playing in La Liga.
“Before we’d collect stickers [of players], nowadays it’s all about watching videos,” chuckled the strategist. “Just the other day there was an episode of Informe Robinson (Editor’s note: a programme by ex-Liverpool player Michael Robinson on Canal Plus Spain) showing footage of former players, and some of our lads were surprised to see me, with a huge moustache, playing in La Liga.
“It all helps: it’s useful to have a memory for sporting history,” continued Alonso, when quizzed on how 11-a-side experience can be put to use in beach soccer. “And don’t forget I’ve been coaching beach soccer since 1996, while Nico for example has been playing since ’98. Some of our lads were just boys back then, so he gives them someone to look up to when it comes to an event like the World Cup,” added the coach, referring to players like 24-year-old Eduard and the clinical Llorenc, 23.
Nico’s caché will have increased still further following the clash with Mexico. With the scores locked at 1-1, the 38-year-old conjured up a delightful nutmeg and outside-of-the-foot finish to put Spain ahead and in control. “What kind of things do I say to my team-mates? It’s very simple: that every game is a final and they should fully focus on only one match at a time,” explained the captain, on how he also attempts to lead by example off the pitch.
“Now we’ve won what was, for us, a first final, we can now start thinking about the next one, against Brazil [on Tuesday],” Nico concluded. “We’re going to go into that game with the same level of desire with which we started our last match. That’s the only way we’ll have a chance of qualifying and keeping our world title dream alive.”