Looking each other square in the eye with arms draped around shoulders and hearts beating fast, Thailand's players never start a game without their pre-match huddle. That ritual has served them well so far at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016, and no one could be happier than coach Miguel Conde. The Spaniard enjoys a reputation in futsal circles as a tactical mastermind, but he has brought his team to the finals with a whole different weapon in their armoury.
"I want to create an emotional bond between the players to serve a bigger cause," he explained to FIFA.com. "You have to play for yourself, but above all you have to play for others. There are so many people who believe in them and whose dreams depend on them." Expectations have certainly been raised back home, with Thailand having turned heads by reaching the last 16 as World Cup hosts four years ago. It was a watershed moment, with nothing having been the same for Thai futsal since – and Conde was appointed just two months before Colombia 2016 with the aim of matching that feat.
A two-time Asian champion during nearly seven years in charge of Japan, Conde has not had time to leave his mark on his new charges in terms of technique. Instead, he has tried to kick-start a revolution in their thinking. "I wanted to change their mentality," he said. "My players sometimes get very emotional. I quickly understood that I needed to find a way of better channelling that energy." Hence the focus on the pre-game huddle, which is far from merely symbolic for Conde. "The energy circle at the start of the match is essential for me, and it's one of the elements of my approach. Touch is the best method for transmitting positive energy. That's how we can connect our hearts and minds."
Not 'just' a World Cup Energy is something that the FIFA futsal instructor himself is hardly lacking. Watch Thailand in action and you are guaranteed a curious spectacle on the sidelines as an animated Conde spends much of the game with his back to the contest, passing on tactical observations to his players – and all in a professorial, expressive style that defies the language barrier. "They're always very ready to listen, even if, for me, the tactical side of things mostly gets passed on at the hotel. The rest plays out in their heads. I always speak about family before games. We share personal stories to create links in order to surpass ourselves."
His approach has already paid dividends. After kicking off with an impressive display in their 6-4 loss to Russia, Thailand caught the eye by seeing off Cuba 8-5 and Egypt 2-1, which left them with six points in the group stage – their best ever World Cup return despite four previous tilts. "They've written history and they deserve it," said Conde. "It's no more than just reward for their work."
Thailand can now pen a new chapter in their history when they face Azerbaijan in the last 16 in Medellin on 22 September, having already performed so well in the city. "This World Cup can't be 'just' another World Cup," added the coach with characteristic enthusiasm. Wearing a radiant smile as he looked forward to the game, he knows the positive energy another win would pass on to an entire population. "We have to do something special. I want to instil in the players' heads my conviction that everything is possible. They can't set themselves the slightest limit."