Higuita: We brought the whole of Kazakhstan to a halt

  • Leo Higuita waxes lyrical about Kazakhstan reaching the semi-finals

  • He hails Orazov, Tursagulov and “best player in the world” Douglas Junior

  • His discusses Portugal, Ricardinho and his daughter watching him

The world’s largest landlocked country screeched to a standstill on Monday night. Curiously, boxing mega-star Gennady Golovkin didn’t have his gloves on. Nor did the sportsman they had tuned in to see. Leo Higuita mysteriously prefers to repel rasping piledrivers with his bare hands – hands which had propelled Kazakhstan their first quarter-final in any world football or futsal championship, at any level. The masses were glued to their TV screens at kick-off. Innumerable more were watching midway through the second half after 'you-have-to-watch-this' phone calls swept the nation. Kazakhstan had been on the cusp of being knocked out, but leapt up on the nine count to KO IR Iran and power into the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™ semi-finals. Higuita, named Best Goalkeeper in the World for five of the past six years, made a series of sensational saves, including one at point-blank range with seconds remaining, to inspire that upset. The 35-year-old chatted to FIFA.com about the post-match celebrations, an upcoming bout with Portugal, his gratitude to Ricardinho, “best player in the world” Douglas Junior and his number-one fan.

How does it feel to have reached the World Cup semi-finals? I struggle to put my emotions into words. I’m 35 years old and I’ve never felt emotions like these. Kazakhstan are in the best four teams in the world! Now we’re surrounded by cobras. Brazil, Argentina, Portugal and Kazakhstan! I will never get sick of hearing this. What did you think of Douglas’s performance against Iran? He really is ‘Iron Man’. He barely goes off. When he does, he gets 30 seconds’ rest, comes back on and plays with the same energy. He’s the heart of our team. If Douglas plays badly, we’re in big trouble. At the most crucial moments, ‘Iron Man’ always shows up. He is, without doubt for me, the best player in the world. You couldn’t invent a more complete player. He scores goals, creates goals, wins possession back when he has no right to, is impossible to get past, takes corners, hits volleys. My God, he does everything! He has to win the Golden Ball.

What were the celebrations like in the dressing room? We celebrated like we’d become world champions. Of course we know we haven’t, but you can’t imagine what it means for Kazakhstan to reach the semi-finals. It was pure ecstasy. Then I woke up the next day and saw a Twitter post from the country’s president, congratulating us and saying we’ve been a sensation. I was stunned – it’s the president talking about us. I was really happy. The Minister of Culture and Sport sent a letter to the [Kazakhstan Football] Federation. He was really happy, congratulating us. We brought Kazakhstan to a halt. Futsal is big in Kazakhstan, but even people who had never watched it stopped to watch our game. Now it’s Portugal in the semi-finals of the World Cup, even more people who have never watched futsal will stop to watch us. I can’t put into words how much this means to us.

You, Douglas and Taynan have been getting a lot of praise, but pre-tournament you attributed Kazakhstan’s emergence to the Kazakhstan-born players… Birzhan Orazov is a horse, a machine! He’s having an impeccable World Cup. He’s been magnificent throughout. Dauren Tursagulov, our pivot, is also having a great tournament, he’s our top scorer. He’s very talented, he’s strong. But Birzhan’s performances have been eye-popping. He’s spending a lot of time on the court and being a real leader. What do you think of Portugal? The last six years Portugal have been a major force. They won the EURO, reached the World Cup semi-finals, they’re here in the semi-finals again. They have great players who play for big clubs. Games like a World Cup semi-final are different. They’re used to this type of game. Everyone gets butterflies before games like this, but they won’t let the pressure get to them. They also play really well as a team. They came here among the big favourites for the title and they remain among them. It will be without doubt our biggest test here.

What do you think of Ricardinho? I remember playing against him on a court in Romania. It was rubbery, bumpy, nobody could dribble on it, everyone kept tripping over the ball. Everyone except Ricardinho. He dribbled past everyone effortlessly. It was mind-blowing. He’s an extraordinary player and aside from his ability, he’s like Falcao - he always steps up at the crucial moments, when the pressure is on. It’s a pleasure to watch Ricardinho play and we futsal players are indebted to him because, just like Falcao before him, he’s been the face of our sport, got so many people watching it, taken it to different heights. I’m very grateful for all Ricardinho has done. Can Kazakhstan win Lithuania 2021? Without doubt. We know Brazil, Argentina and Portugal are the favourites, and that’s fine with us, they have more pressure on them. But we can give any team in the world a game. We’ve proven that for a good few years now, and our team now is better than it’s ever been. First we have to beat Portugal. I think it will be a very even game that it determined by small details.

And your number-one fan will be watching… (laughs) Clarinha’s really funny. She’s starting to understand the game a bit, but whenever I make a mistake, she says it’s this guy’s fault or that guy’s fault! Nothing is daddy’s fault! (laughs) I love it. I wish Clarinha could be the commentator for my games. (laughs) I really miss her. I really miss my wife. I've been away from them for two months. It's tough but I'm on a mission and they're with me all the way. God willing, I will see them on the 5th of October with a winner's medal.