Morillo: Venezuela are living the dream
Venezuela have reached the Round of 16 at Lithuania 2021
Rafael Morillo was the hero at both ends versus Costa Rica
"It’s wonderful to hear them in the stands and see our flag."
Rafael Morillo is trying hard to remain clam. Every time he talks about the two wins that have propelled debutants Venezuela into the Round of 16 of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™, however, he emits a delighted chuckle. Minutes before his post-match interview with FIFA.com, the final whistle had blown on a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Costa Rica that sparked wild celebrations on the sidelines. Certain players pointed to the sky, while others shed a tear or two at the joyous realisation of what they had achieved. Morillo released some tension by letting out a few loud yells, and then gave each of his team-mates and coaches a heartfelt hug. He is immediately keen to stress the two factors that have been integral to La Vinotinto’s success in Lithuania: defensive solidity on the pitch (they have conceded just one goal, to the host nation) and a feeling of unity off it. “We’ve been working together for many months now and we’ve made a lot of sacrifices, but we’ve gradually got better and better,” he said. “We’re an honest, hard-working side that leaves everything out on the pitch.”
The path to Venezuela’s first-ever appearance at the Futsal World Cup has not been straightforward. With the traditional powers of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay tending to scoop three of the qualifying spots, it was only from 2012 onwards – and the expansion to four CONMEBOL teams – that they began to properly push for a berth, although 2016 hosts Colombia beat them to it for the previous two tournaments. Despite losing to Brazil in the semi-finals and to Paraguay in the third-place play-off of the South American qualifiers in 2020, the objective was finally achieved. “The South American qualifying campaign is quite difficult, because you’re up against Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay,” said Morillo. “We’ve put in some great work over the past few years, and we earned the opportunity to qualify for this World Cup. We’re living the dream – and enjoying it!”
Once again, his face lights up as he reflects on his team’s accomplishment at Lithuania 2021 – a cherry on the cake for the 28-year-old in a year that began with him packing his bags to play in Italy with Serie A club Citta Di Mestre. “As a young boy, I always dreamed of playing at a World Cup,” he said. Morillo was instrumental in further extending that dream in Kaunas on Wednesday, not only scoring the sole goal of the match, but also – in one of the game’s most memorable moments – dramatically sliding in to deny Costa Rica an equaliser at the end of the first half. “From a personal point of view, I’m very happy with my goal and the one I saved on the line,” he said. “But I am, like the entire team, here to fight for every ball until the final whistle.”
Country and family
Morillo sensibly wants to take things one step at a time, with a clash with Kazakhstan rounding off the group stage on Saturday. Both teams sit on six points after two matches, so a win would give the Venezuelans top spot in Group A and, on paper, a more manageable tie in the Round of 16. “Now we need to turn our thoughts to Kazakhstan, to see if we can finish top of our section,” he said. “Then we’ll see who we get in the last 16.” Before all that, he has a word for Venezuela’s loyal fans, a small but vocal group of whom, very much aware of their country’s strong futsal tradition, cheered their heroes continuously at the Kaunas Arena. “We’re so happy and proud to have their support,” he said. “They come from all over to give us their backing. It’s wonderful to hear them in the stands and see our flag. We’re very grateful.” And what about all the supporters watching on television back home during their lunch breaks? “There’ll be a party!” exclaimed Morillo. “They’ve been closely following our progress. This victory is for them, and I ask them to keep believing that we’ll bring them even more joy.” He concluded, clearly in a hurry to complete the interview: “I can’t stop thinking about making a video call on my phone to my wife and son.” As he walks away, the goalscorer’s broad smile exudes a mix of excitement and nervousness, an appropriate reflection of Venezuela’s historic night at the Futsal World Cup.