The South American qualifying tournament for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012 proved to be anything but predictable, with Paraguay inflicting a historic defeat on hosts Brazil in the semi-finals, Argentina taking the title and unfancied Colombia defying expectations by battling through to the last four.

The quartet will all go forward to the world finals, to be held in Thailand on 1-18 November. For the Colombians it will be their first appearance on the big stage. reflects on a fascinating week-long championship, held in the Brazilian city of Gramado.

Not in the script
An ever-present at the world finals, Argentina were widely tipped to reach the final, though few expected them to finish anywhere other than in the runners-up slot, especially with the tournament being played on Brazilian soil. Second in their group, La Albiceleste made the most of their defensive attributes to see off Colombia by a narrow margin in the semis and then pip Paraguay to the title on penalties.

“The main aim was to qualify, and the other objective came about as the tournament went on,” said goalkeeper Santiago Elias, one of the four veterans of Brazil 2008 in the side and the custodian with the second-best record in the competition, with only six goals conceded. “Winning a title in Brazil is historic and we’re really going to celebrate it.”

That was the moment the team’s been working towards since 2004. On a personal level it’s a dream come true for me, though I’m just sorry we couldn’t finish it all off by winning the championship. 

Paraguay captain Fabio Alcaraz

Nevertheless it was Paraguay who pulled off the most unexpected result of the competition in consigning Brazil to a stunning 5-3 defeat in the semis. It was the reigning world champions’ first ever reverse at home, one that prevented them from taking their customary place in the final.

For La Albirroja’s experienced captain and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Fabio Alcaraz, it was rich reward for many years of hard work: “That was the moment the team’s been working towards since 2004. On a personal level it’s a dream come true for me, though I’m just sorry we couldn’t finish it all off by winning the championship.”

Not one surprise but two
swept all before them in the group phase. The only side in the tournament to reach the semi-finals with a perfect record, the four-time world champions lived up to their billing by scoring 37 goals in their four pool games and conceding just the one. The seemingly invincible Brazilians reckoned without a determined Paraguay outfit, however, and found themselves out of the title running at an unexpectedly early stage.

“We kept saying that our prime objective was to qualify and that after that came the title,” said Seleção coach Marcos Sorato after the home nation’s shock defeat. “We slipped up, but we’ll still be in good shape for the World Cup.”

Despite being beaten 5-1 by the wounded Brazilians in the match for third place, Colombia will have fond memories of what was an exceptional tournament for them. Having laid down a marker by reaching the last four at the Copa America, the Colombians proved that was no fluke by doing it all again and earning a place in the world finals for the very first time.  

“We finished ahead of some experienced teams like Uruguay,” said Cafetero target man Angellot Caro, the team’s leading scorer with five goals. “The key to it all was being organised, brave and determined to make a mark. We’re delighted.”