With the second phase of FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008 about to get underway, FIFA.com took the chance to speak to former Spain coach Javier Lozano, who guided the Furia Roja to sucessive world titles in 2000 and 2004. Lozano currently combines his work with FIFA’s Technical Study Group with a role at Real Madrid, where he acts as a liason officer between the professional football team and the various sections of the clubs.

Taking a break off from his work for Los Blancos, Lozano has been spending time at the tournament in Brazil analysing the games for FIFA’s Technical Study Group. Having witnessed the hosts play in Brasilia, he has been very impressed with the Seleção’s progress so far. “Brazil are very focused and have prepared well for this World Cup. In contrast to 2000 and 2004, they are playing together as a team and don’t appear to be plagued with any internal problems this time,” Lozano told FIFA.com.

Despite the convincing performance of the home team to date, Lozano is reluctant to name Brazil as the clear favourites to pick up the coveted trophy. “It’s still too early to make any predictions. I think a number of teams could go all the way at this World Cup, including Spain, Brazil, Italy and Argentina,” he said.

Pressure helps Spain perform
Speaking ahead of the second round games, Lozano revealed that he expected to see an improved performance from his compatriots after their somewhat stuttering start to the tournament. “Traditionally, Spain’s strength never lay in their attacking play but rather in having a solid defense, good ball control and patient build-up. The first round is mostly a matter of warming up. This team needs the pressure provided by strong opposition to start firing on all cylinders,” said the Spaniard, who is also a member of the UEFA Futsal and Beach Soccer Commitee.

Spain, under new coach Venancio Lopez, will be no doubt looking to experienced players such as Javi Rodriguez and Kike in their quest for a hat-trick of world titles. While Kike has been an integral member of the Iberian set-up since their win at Guatemala 2000, Javi Rodriguez will be participating in his fourth FIFA Futsal World Cup tournament after making his debut at the 1996 edition in Spain. Lozano knows the pair well from his time as national team coach. “Javi is very experienced and a fantastic player. He’s the ideal person to help maintain team morale. Kike, on the other hand, is a natural leader on the pitch. He’s mentally strong and a very intelligent player who always puts the team first and gives everything to win,” the 47-year-old told FIFA.com.

Exciting second-round games in store
Although Lozano believes Spain, under new coach Venancio Lopez, will be favourites to progress, he is still very wary of the threat posed by their opponents in Group F: “Given their experience, Spain may have a slight advantage in the group, but I still think it’s going to go right down to the wire. Paraguay and Argentina both combine European discipline with South American creativity, while Russia are one of the strongest attacking teams here, even if they do need to tighten up their defence a bit.”

In Group E, Lozano favours the two big names to progress, but is aware that Ukraine possess the potential to spring a surprise. “Brazil and Italy are, on paper, the favourites but Ukraine will make life very difficult for both of these teams. Iran appear to have run out of steam somewhat, but if they remain mentally focused, they’re still capable of achieving something at the tournament,” he predicted.

Lozano is full of praise for the way futsal has developed over the past few years, citing the improvement of individual teams as a sign of the advances made: “Some years ago, teams were still playing futsal with five football players. Now everybody knows how you have to play futsal. It requires the players to have a certain in-built instinct for the right movement off the ball as well as tactical organization.”

One team who, despite failing to make the second group phase, have greatly impressed Lozano are Guatemala. The CONCACAF champions coached by Carlos Estrada have come on in leaps and bounds according to the Spaniard. “A few years ago the team were still playing in a very disorganized and tactically naïve manner. They have improved immensely and benefit from playing against high-quality opposition,” he told FIFA.com ahead of the intriguing second round encounters of FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008 starting Saturday.