Aksentijevic hoping to save the best for last
Miodrag Aksentijevic is Serbia's goalkeeper at Lithuania 2021
He has faith in their qualification bid despite two defeats so far
Aksentijevic had a perfect view of a legendary Ricardinho goal
Serbia could hardly have been given a stiffer test in their opening two games at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™. First up were IR Iran, third-place finishers at the previous edition, and from there the task grew even more daunting as they took on reigning champions Argentina. A mighty challenge indeed, and there was no shame in suffering two defeats. Quite the contrary, according to goalkeeper Miodrag Aksentijevic, who saw plenty of positives following the 4-2 loss to La Albiceleste.
Fresh from pulling off a string of difficult and spectacular saves, Aksentijevic preferred to see the glass half full for his team. "It's not such a bad result," he explained to FIFA.com, before leaving the court at Vilnius Arena. "In the other groups, some of the teams can finish third with three points. If we win our last game against USA, we will have three points and perhaps qualification will come down to a few goals. Maybe one or two of the saves I made tonight will make the difference in the end."
Aksentijevic made a lot more than "one or two" saves. Already impressive in Serbia's opening match, limiting IR Iran to three goals, he put in a stunning display against the holders. "I gave it my best, but what could I have done against the world champions?" asked the 38-year-old, pointing to a screen showing the four goals he conceded.
"I know how to make saves on my line, but I can't fly! The only thing I was thinking throughout the game was that each save could make the difference. I know it's tough to maintain your motivation and a clear head when you're losing, but I wanted to avoid that because we have a young team. I owe it to myself to always give my best and set an example for the young players."
Learning and improving
With a goal difference of minus four, the Orlovi can still dream of qualifying for the knockout stage as one of the best third-placed sides – provided they defeat USA. Should that prove insufficient, Aksentijevic still feels their adventure in Lithuania will have been worthwhile. "For most of our players, it's a new experience," he said. "Only four of us took part in the 2012 edition. Playing against teams with experience and professional players is the best way to learn and improve. Our youngsters have a lot of talent, desire and enthusiasm, and all they lack is the experience of big competitions and opponents of the very highest quality."
Aksentijevic himself has experience galore, not just from reaching the last 16 at Thailand 2012 but also from a club career in Serbia, Kazakhstan, Russia and France. His experience extends beyond the game too. "You're not the same man at the start, middle or end of your career, as a player or as a person," added the veteran, having had to cope with numerous personal trials. Those include the loss of his father and, just a few months ago, his brother as well, which prompted his recent decision to sign for Stuttgart in order to be closer to his family. "I made that decision to provide stability for my family, as that's a priority for me. I'm 38 and I need to start thinking about life after futsal, even though I think I can still play for another two or three years at a high level."
A bittersweet memory
Having played alongside Ricardinho for ACCS Futsal in the suburbs of Paris, Aksentijevic knows all about the highest levels of the sport. It was also thanks to the Portuguese ace – or, rather, because of him – that the goalkeeper found himself in a video clip that went viral across the globe a few years ago.
Crowned the world's best player on five separate occasions, Ricardinho was competing at UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 when he deployed an incredible series of skills to score one of the most stunning goals in futsal history. His victim that day? The man standing between the posts for Serbia, completely powerless to keep the ball out of the net.
Reminded of that moment, Aksentijevic delivered a response as unstoppable as Ricardinho's shot. "That's how the story goes for every goalkeeper. Everyone remembers the wonderful goals we concede, but who remembers that Serbia actually won that game 3-1?" Warming to his theme, Miky smiled with mischief and pride. "Despite that goal, Portugal went home and we played the best tournament in our history. We reached the semi-finals and I was named best goalkeeper. So, if people only want to remember that goal…
"Plus, it was an extraordinary goal, scored by the best player in the world. What keeper wouldn't have let it in? I have no problem with that, and I'm even happy about it because I was there and in the best position to witness the spectacle. The important thing is to experience those exceptional moments. Having been at that European championship, being here today at the World Cup – these are the stories I'll be able to tell my kids about." The hope now is to one day regale them with the tale of how Serbia turned their tournament around.