Although Gustavo’s luminous shirt already helps him stand out from the rest of the Russia team, it is his numerous impressive saves – and headgear – that have caught the eye at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016.
Russia’s goalkeeper wears a protective helmet in every match and training session. It serves as a preventative measure for a 37-year-old who has already suffered two serious head injuries during his career.
“The first injury was about four years ago; I got a knee to the head and it fractured my skull,” Gustavo recalled, pointing to the area near his eyebrow where the break happened. “I was in hospital for a month,” he added. Doctors advised him to wear headgear for the next six months, after which time the 1.79-metre tall shotstopper returned to playing hatless. “About a month later, I hit the ground with my head and hurt myself again.”
Now the father of two sons never leaves the house without protection – but not on medical advice. “Shortly after my second injury we had a family meeting and everyone, especially my Mum and Dad, asked me to wear the helmet constantly from that point on,” he said. After all, every good son does what his mother says – even when he is an international athlete and one of the world’s best futsal goalkeepers.
Spain the perennial adversaries
Upon hearing this story, it is difficult not to draw parallels with Petr Cech, who also plays in protective headgear and is among the best goalkeepers in the world.
“I like that comparison, but I hope it’s due to talent as well as just the helmet,” Gustavo grinned. He can rest assured that his skills are certainly a factor in these observations. The Russia shot-stopper conceded just three goals at his first Futsal World Cup in Thailand four years ago and helped his team boast the tournament’s strongest defence in the process. By conceding just six goals in four matches this year in Colombia, Gustavo has once again played a major role in getting the Eastern European side to the quarter-finals.
Just like four years ago, the team awaiting them in the last eight is Spain, one of the only sides to get the better of the Porto Alegre-born goalkeeper in Thailand. Although the Iberians will have to manage without their top goalscorer Lozano, who tore his cruciate ligament in the Round of 16 win and has already travelled home for treatment, while Russia can pick from a full-strength squad in good form, Gustavo is careful not to sound too optimistic or bombastic, however.
“I was really confident in Thailand four years ago,” he explained. “We hadn’t conceded a goal in four matches and then we lost 3-2 to Spain in the quarter-finals and had to go home.” Indeed, the 37-year-old has few happy memories of facing La Roja, having lost to the same opponents in the final of UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 in February.
Nevertheless, anyone who has watched the Russians during their stay in Colombia this year will believe that things could turn out differently this time. The team have been extremely focused on a single goal. “We want the title,” their custodian said. “It’s my big dream, my last major ambition, and probably my last chance given that it’s my last World Cup.”
With Gustavo determined to give everything for a quarter-final victory, fans can look forward to seeing the goalkeeper with the luminous shirt and protective headgear flying across the penalty box on Saturday evening.