Ramirez: Guatemala want to make history on bicentennial independence day
William Ramirez is competing in his fourth FIFA Futsal World Cup
He and his Guatemalan team-mates are targeting a spot in the knockout phase
The veteran goalkeeper discusses the ups and downs of his eventful career
When FIFA.com presented William Ramirez with the following photo, which shows a younger version of the Guatemala goalkeeper during the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008™, he immediately burst out laughing.
And with good reason: with extremely short hair, a slightly lost look and an incredible jersey – bearing a remarkable skeleton design – that appeared to be a little tight on him, he would be the first to admit that he did not resemble much of a professional sportsman at the time. “As you can see, my hair was starting to grow back,” he said jovially. “I’d been part of the national set-up for six years at that point, and the tradition was that new players always had to shave their heads. But I kept telling them that I couldn’t do it because of my work. “Just before the World Cup, they wouldn’t take no for an answer and shaved me anyway. And that jersey, wow, what a great memory!” Noting that he still has the eye-catching shirt at home, along with additional souvenirs from other World Cups in which he has participated (apart from Thailand 2012, where his luggage got lost), he added: “These things help me to think about who I was, who I’ve become, and the legacy I’ll leave behind me when I stop playing.”
At 41 years of age, with four Futsal World Cups on his CV, he will likely be recognised as a national sporting icon when he finally hangs up his gloves – a moment that may not be all that far away. “This World Cup has a different feel about it, because I’m starting to envisage a clock counting down as far as my ability to put in top-notch performances is concerned,” said Ramirez, who claims to have improved his game with every tournament. “I didn’t play very much at my first World Cup. At the second, I learned how to deal with the tension and adrenaline that you get before a match. And I also learned how to cope with tough scenarios.” The most difficult situation in which Ramirez was involved transpired in 2012 when, after defeating Colombia and losing to Russia, Los Chapines just needed a win against an already-eliminated Solomon Islands side to advance to the Round of 16. “On paper, they were the most beatable team,” he recalled. “But we lost, despite having beaten Colombia, who eventually made it all the way to the semi-finals. That was a real lesson for us, and we’re trying to put what we learned there to good use here today.”
As fate would have it, the Guatemalans find themselves in a similar situation at Lithuania 2021, having overcome Uzbekistan in their opening game, with clashes versus Egypt and RFU to come. “We got past a tricky hurdle in our first match,” said Ramirez. “Our plan to make a bit of history has started well. “We’re due to celebrate the bicentenary of Guatemala gaining its independence on 15 September, which is the day of the Egypt match. If we were to secure a place in the next round there and then, that would be a great achievement and an amazing day.” ‘Amazing’ is also an appropriate adjective to describe the moment that brought great delight to fans watching back home in Guatemala on Sunday, when captain Alan Aguilar scored a dramatic, last-gasp winner against Uzbekistan, after the Asians had come back from 4-1 down to level things at 4-4 and seemed destined to grab the three points as the final whistle approached. “When they equalised, there were still two minutes left,” said Ramirez. “I told myself that we needed to at least hold on to a draw to keep matters in our own hands against Egypt. And then Alan’s goal saved us. That’s what’s fantastic about futsal: everything can change in an instant.” The ability to dig deep in such a way is nothing new to the Guatemalan players, though. “We don’t make a living from futsal – the effort that we have to put in at a World Cup is a bit different from other teams,” explained Ramirez, who holds two degrees in international relations and in human rights, and who worked for 15 years in a government institution that ended up shutting its doors, leaving 200 people, himself included, without employment. Fortunately, he eventually found an administrative post within the Guatemalan Football Association. “Those were seven difficult months, where I had to find a new job and a way of making ends meet in the meantime,” said the relieved 41-year-old.
“We’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices in order to be able to play at a World Cup. We train from 4:15 to 6:30 in the morning, then we all go to work and we finish off with another training session in the evening. “These sacrifices make us feel even stronger and braver, because we know that hardly anyone would be able to do what we do. The players must all bear that in mind here. We have to make sure that it’s all worth it.” Ramirez had actually turned his back on that frenetic schedule when, in 2016, he decided to announce his international retirement and accept the role of goalkeeping coach offered to him by the man at the helm of Guatemala, Estuardo de Leon. However, following the qualifiers for Lithuania 2021 in May, De Leon asked if he would consider putting his gloves back on again. “I’d finished representing the national team, but I was still playing with my club,” said the Glucosoral man. “I spoke about it with my wife and daughters, and they told me, ‘If you say yes, make sure you give it your all, so that they see you’re a hard worker and a good and loyal person. If you do that, we’ll support you’.” Since then, he has kept his nose to the grindstone, despite coming down with COVID-19 in June, which sidelined him for two weeks and meant that he missed out on the benefits of the first month of preparation. “Drive and desire have helped me to get to where I am today – on the verge of bringing my international career to a close while possibly creating a little piece of history,” concluded Ramirez with an air of wisdom and determination that the younger man in the 2008 photo might not have recognised.