While Spain’s intimidating fluidity and palpable confidence may have been lacking at points during the final game of FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016’s group stage, their self-belief is certainly not going to be dispelled by a couple of below-par showings.
“As a team we are very good, as players we are very good,” winger Sergio Lozano told FIFA.com following the 4-3 win over Morocco, “but we’re going to have to improve if we’re to get beyond the second stage. I think this team just has to be given some time. If we get that we can reach our goals.”
There are no doubts this team is brimming with talent, following in the wake of their considerable futsal pedigree. They have reached every world or continental final – bar two where they finished third – for the past two decades, and it is no surprise that this exceptional history, and near-expectation of success, flows through the veins of those draped in red.
Unlike many players at the tournament, there was never a point when the Madrid-native made a switch for football to futsal. His commitment has been pure. “It’s always been futsal for me. I’m in love with it, so there’s never been an incentive to play football,” Lozano explained. “I’m so happy to be here and doing what I do.”
And because of that, the 27-year-old grew up on a diet of Spanish futsal at its peak, when they swept the world stage at Guatemala 2000 and Chinese Taipei 2004. “I remember those tournaments, as I watched a lot of the games when I was very young.”
“Now I’m fortunate enough to be friends with Javi Rodriguez, and every time I remember [the 2000] final and his goals I get goosebumps,” Lozano recalled, looking back on Rodriguez’s late second-penalty brace. “It would be an honour and a privilege for us to repeat what they did and become world champions.”
Twelve years on in Thailand he found himself in a similar position to his former team-mate and now close friend, facing Brazil in a Futsal World Cup final. This time, though, they lost out in extra-time. “My memories are very positive of the tournament until the final! I think we did very well in championship in general, but maybe we didn’t know how to break down Brazil.”
But that unshakeable belief means he feels that final step can be made with this generation. “I think we have the team to be world champions,” Lozano said with a look of determination. “It’s clear that we have to improve a lot of things, but I sincerely hope that, when the time comes, we compete just as this Spain team can. If we’re faithful to our principles, sticking to our eye-catching, intense and joyful style of play, I think we have what it takes.”
The legendary Rodriguez believes in the team too. “He told me that he’s a great fan of how we play and always tells me to 'give everything out on the court, then everything will come together'.”
Having triumphed at UEFA Futsal EURO 2016, they have every right to believe they have what it takes. And perhaps even more so in Colombia than Serbia back in February. On the eve of the tournament they were left without Lozano, Aicardo and Fernandao through injury, with the former pair scoring three of the four goals against Morocco.
They met next opponents Kazakhstan in the semi-finals on the way to the title and Lozano has memories a tough battle. Though with Spain’s three returning figures, and their opponents set to have star goalkeeper Higuita back on the scene, their 5-3 win seven months ago counts for little in reading the outcome. “It was a great match, we pressed well, we showed great spirit. It’s going to be a very different match this time out but our idea is to try to bring the same game to them as we did at the EUROs.”
They will find out if it is enough on Wednesday night.