Paraguay coach Carlos Chilavert remembers all too clearly the day when his hopes of appearing in his third FIFA Futsal World Cup at Thailand 2012 were dashed. “We were preparing for the finals and went on one last tour to Kazakhstan to play a couple of friendlies against the European club champions,” he explained in an interview with FIFA.com.
“I was still recovering from a knee injury and didn’t play in the first game, which we lost. I came back for the second, just a day before we were due to leave for Thailand. We were two goals up, I went in hard for the ball and fell on it. My arm got caught up behind me and I dislocated my shoulder. And that was that. Goodbye World Cup.”
Continuing to reflect on his misfortune with remarkable calm, the 39-year-old ex-defender, who represented his country on the big stage at Chinese Taipei 2004 and Brazil 2008, added: “I realised that day that God was saying: ‘This is as far as it goes for Chila’. I travelled with the team to Thailand because I was the captain and I knew that it was important for them. By that time, though, I’d decided that my international career was over.”
Chilavert has no regrets at having pushed himself to play that friendly or at having put everything he had into it, even with the world finals just a matter of days away: “That’s the way I always played. Even in practice matches I wanted to win. Maybe if I’d eased off a little I’d still be playing. But I never did, whether I was injured or not. And that’s what I expect of my players today.”
The greatest player in the history of Paraguayan futsal, Chilavert retired from the game at the end of 2012 but is continuing to set the standard for his compatriots. Just days before the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion hosts the South American qualifiers for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, Chila was putting his all into his side’s final warm-up match, a 5-0 defeat to five time world champions Brazil, a team they are due to face in the group phase of the preliminaries.
Explaining his desire for maximum intensity, he said: “An injury can come at any time: in training, a warm-up or during a game itself. It’s worse if you go around being scared or thinking that something can happen. The risk is there. And I always ran the risk.”
A whole new ball game Taking on the national team coaching job just four months after hanging up his shoes represented an entirely different challenge for Chilavert, one that took him a couple of days to accept. Recalling his decision, he said: “I wasn’t worried about my lack of experience or putting my status at risk. The problem for me was having to take certain decisions with players who’d been my team-mates. People were talking about bringing new faces in, but I believed in those players. Half the squad for these qualifiers all played in Thailand.”
And the other half? “They’re youngsters with an average age of 21. We made the changes we needed to make and it would be great if we could now kick on and reach the World Cup for the fourth time running. If these kids can make the world finals, that would be a legacy in itself, regardless of what I go on to do later.”
Copa America runners-up in 2015 behind Argentina, La Albirroja are fancied to take one of the three qualifying berths on offer for Colombia 2016, though coach Chilavert is taking nothing for granted: “A lot of people here think we ought to win it, but I know what South American futsal is all about. Even though we beat them in the semis in the last qualifiers, the Brazil game is not the biggest one for us.”
Expanding on that point, he said: “Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador are the teams we need to beat. We can’t lose sight of our objective, which is to qualify for the World Cup. We have to get through to the semis and then see if that’s enough. If Colombia make the last four, then we’ll definitely go to the world finals. The sooner that happens, the better.”
Chilavert, who spent his entire club career in the prestigious Italian and Spanish leagues, is confident he has got his preparations right, even if there are still areas where he feels his charges can improve: “We’re a team that likes to be on the ball the whole time and we can get impatient if we don’t have it. If you keep pressing and pressing, it can let you down. That’s why we’re working on playing an intelligent game in keeping with who the opposition are.”
A distant cousin of Jose Luis Chilavert, Carlos exudes the same kind of confidence that the famous keeper once did. “The people of Paraguay had a nasty experience with football in Brazil,” he recalled. “It’s not very nice when you’re on the outside looking in at a World Cup, especially when it’s so close to home. It would be a really tough blow to take for our futsal but I believe in what we’ve been doing up to now. I think I’ve got the best squad Paraguayan futsal has ever had.”