Arni: I'm desperate to beat Brazil and hold my newborn daughter

  • Arni Knaub has shone and scored twice for Kazakhstan at Lithuania 2021

  • He became a father for the first time one day before their semi-final

  • Arni discusses their campaign and a dream battle with Brazil for bronze

Arni Knaub enjoyed his professional and personal zeniths within 36 recent hours.

Deep into Monday evening, he was hailed a “superhero” by coach Paulo Figueroa after his bullet had Kazakhs screaming for joy at one of the greatest results in their sporting history. On Wednesday morning, after his own superheroine, wife Arina, had screamed in pain she gave birth to their first child – 3,000 kilometres away in Almaty. Arni chats to about becoming a father from afar, his celebration tributes, Kazakhstan’s historic campaign and their desperation to beat Brazil for bronze.

How did it feel to become a father? It was an unbelievable feeling. It’s a feeling I’ve never felt. It was really difficult being away from my family. I really wanted to be there for my wife and to hold my daughter in my hands. But it’s part of my job. This World Cup has been a mission of mine for years. My wife is very supportive. We didn’t know when the World Cup would happen or the baby would arrive. The target was to reach the semi-finals, then to reach the final, and now it’s to win a medal. You’d already commemorated Olivia’s imminent arrival with your goal celebrations in Lithuania… (laughs) I’d been thinking about doing that for months. I wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ to my wife. It’s really tough being pregnant, giving birth anyway, but I have been away for two months and that made it so much harder for Arina. If I scored a goal at the World Cup, I was going to make this little tribute to her. She liked it, so I’m really pleased. I love her.

One of those goals was a piledriver in the 3-2 win over IR Iran. Did you have a thunderous shot and volleying ability naturally or was it something you developed? When I went to Tulpar I played with the Brazilian Talles Feitosa. He was an incredible player. I saw the way he shot, executed volleys and I was really impressed. I asked him about it, he kindly gave me a lot of useful tips, and I started developing my ability to do this. It’s now a speciality of mine. My hard shot enabled me to score in a World Cup quarter-final, to put Kazakhstan on level terms, and do a celebration I can now show my daughter when she’s old enough. Who do you think has been Kazakhstan’s best player at this tournament? Higuita. He’s been out of this world. He has not just been Kazakhstan’s best player but the tournament’s. He definitely deserves the Golden Ball, but I know in these tournaments it generally goes to a player from the winning team.

What has the reaction been from back home to Kazakhstan’s campaign? It’s been absolutely amazing. People expected us to reach the knockout phase, but when we reached the semi-finals the excitement exploded. I think we are the best sports team in Kazakhstan – no team from another sport has been in the best four teams in the world. We were getting bombarded with messages, everyone was so euphoric. Even the Kazakhstan president congratulated us. We really wanted to reach the final and I think we deserved to beat Portugal, but now we’ll do everything we can to win a medal. To do that you’ll have to beat the record five-time champions. How do you feel knowing you’re going to play against the mighty Brazil for a Futsal World Cup medal? It’s gives me immense happiness. Ever since I was a kid I’ve dreamed of playing against the Brazilian national team in a World Cup. The Brazilian players were my heroes. The best player – not only for me but for the whole world – was Falcao, but I also really liked Simi. I had a playing style more similar to his. And at the World Cup in Thailand, I was blown away by Neto. I’m so, so happy to know I am going to play against the country that has produced so many of these incredible players. But times have changed. When I was a kid I used to dream about just being on the court with these superstars. To be honest, I couldn’t have imagined that Kazakhstan could compete against Brazil. Now I dream about beating Brazil and finishing third. And this is now a real possibility. What Kazakhstan have done here is already a fairy tale, but beating Brazil to win a medal would be the mother of all fairy tales. It would be unbelievable for the Kazakh people. I can only imagine how emotional and euphoric the people would be.

Which is how you expect to feel when you finally hold baby Olivia? (laughs) I know I’m going to cry! I think it will be the most emotional moment of my life. But there’s something I want to do first: I want to score another goal in this tournament, against Brazil, and then I have a new celebration prepared to honour baby Olivia.