- Today marks 20th anniversary of Spain's first Futsal World Cup title
- La Roja defeated hot favourites Brazil 4-3 in final of Guatemala 2000
- Then coach Javier Lozano recalls his side’s achievement
Spain’s triumphant campaign at the FIFA Futsal World Championship Guatemala 2000 saw them overcome some formidable opponents along the way, win an epic final with a stirring comeback, and pen a new chapter in the sport’s history. And yet, when the final whistle sounded in the decider, Roja coach Javier Lozano had the composure to pause amid the mayhem and savour the moment his way.
"The boys were jumping for joy but, after hugging my assistant, I made a point of taking it all in and making a series of mental photos to sear into my memory. At that moment you’re not thinking about what you’ve achieved, you're just trying to capture emotions that will stay with you all your life. The public, the players, my assistant, our opponents... I was very calm, as I wanted was to take it all away with me."
Spain had just won the first of its two futsal world titles – and in some style too. Not only had they ended Brazil’s hegemony in the discipline – A Seleção had won all three previous editions – they also avenged their defeat to them in the final on home soil four years earlier.
A triumph that changed Spanish sport
Lozano is unequivocal about the importance of that 2000 world title. "The mindset of Spanish futsal changed. We’d brought Brazil, who were a mythical, seemingly unbeatable team, crashing down to earth. After that, we faced them about six times in four years and beat them on five of those occasions. In addition, we sent a message to the world that there was also a Spanish model to follow. The international standard ceased to be that of Brazil, and we started to see Spanish coaches all around the world."
The team’s success even transcended the world of futsal in the wake of widespread recognition back home. "The media coverage was like nothing we’d seen before, because at the time [Spanish] team sports were not achieving major honours. After us, they won in handball, basketball... and then football. We were the first."
Three key ingredients
The road to the 2000 title was certainly challenging. "It was like doing a Masters in resilience and human-resource management, and I came out of it with a PhD," he says with a smile. However, for Lozano, there were three things in particular that were key to their triumph.
I. Thick skin in the face of criticism:
There was unquestionably a stifling atmosphere at the pre-tournament training camp. "When I announced the squad, I left out Javier Lorente, one of the players with the most influence and history with the team. So every day we were hearing criticism... The period in which we were preparing in Spain was unbearable. To endure that and not fray as a group was the first triumph." When we arrived in the host nation Guatemala, the atmosphere was relaxed. We’d overcome our first obstacle.
II. Claveria, an unexpected hero
"During the warm-up for our first game of the second group phase, our second-choice goalkeeper broke a finger. Then during the match itself, our starter Luis Amado also got injured. All we were left with was out third keeper, Jesus Claveria, who we’d taken along more as a mark of respect, so he could bow out at a major large tournament. That night at the hotel was very dramatic. Morale was low, because the team feared our dream was slipping away."
Lozano then had to draw on all his motivational skills. "I met with the players alone and had an extremely emotional chat. Everybody was crying. I had to find something they could hold on to. When that talk was over, the prevailing sense of woe had been transformed into anger. By the time we huddled, they were shouting again and we’d turned things round."
Claveria, who made some vital stops in the decider, became the hero of the hour. "He taught us a life lesson," says Lozano. "Instead of complaining, he made sure he was prepared for when his chance came."
III. Consolidating motivations
After his side had made it to the final, Lozano had one last trick up his sleeve to deal with the all-conquering Brazilians. "The team-talk on the eve of the final was key. We went round asking everyone why they wanted to win. Each player had their own motives, and we managed to align individual interests with those of the group. I remember having to do an interview shortly afterwards and telling those present that 'we're going to win'. And I said it with total conviction, because I saw that the team wanted to win. That's why I directed proceedings so calmly during the game itself."
The final as expected
And so we come to the closing chapter of this story: the grand finale against Brazil. "They had their best ever side," says Lozano. However, the Roja coach had studied them well and come up with a game plan that left nothing to chance – even having to come from behind. And that is precisely what happened when Brazil took a 3-2 lead in the second half.
"We thought that if we can still keep possession, they’ll get nervous and commit fouls." And so it transpired. "The end unfolded like a Spielberg script," he says with a laugh. "We won with two frees from the second penalty spot." Settled only in the final moments, those goals would seal a 4-3 triumph for Spain.
Four years later, again with Lozano at the helm, La Roja would secure their second world crown. But nothing compares to that first time. "You never forget your first kiss. Over your life there may be many more, but that first one stays with you forever," the coach concludes.