For many at the top end of the futsal world, 2016 will already rank among some of the greatest years of their careers before setting foot on Colombian soil ahead of the FIFA Futsal World Cup.
However, the year began with a nagging – and all too familiar – itch for Russia’s Vladislav Shayakhmetov. For the third UEFA Futsal EURO running, his country finished as the second best side in Europe. Even though he was able to eclipse falling agonisingly short again with a dramatic triumph to lift his second UEFA Futsal Cup title with Gazprom Ugra Yugorsk, the veteran forward told FIFA.com the 7-3 defeat to Spain was a frustrating one.
“We didn’t show our best in that final,” Shayakhmetov admitted. “I don’t know why, I think there were a number of reasons, but it’s in the past and it was a good lesson. I could say a lot about the game, but I’d sum it up as ‘we study our mistakes and we get stronger’. Ultimately we felt awful after that final in Belgrade, but now we have a new start.”
Despite the gloom that hangs over that defeat, the man once regarded by many as the best in the game is steadfast when it comes to his pride in their achievements. “There are a lot of teams in Europe who would be in seventh heaven if they even managed to play just once in the final or a bronze medal match,” he pointed out. “But you must always work harder and harder; even if you win everything, you can always find someone who is better than you.”
While that latter sentiment may be true, Shayakhmetov can at least for now bask in the glory of being stood atop of the continental club tree, having lifted the Futsal Cup at the end of April in a thrilling encounter with Spanish champions Inter FS. Even more impressive is the fact that it was Ugra’s debut in the competition.
Despite no expectations of going all the way in their first European foray, even if he had achieved just that back in 2008 with Sinara, the man from Revda – just west of Yekaterinburg – was confident in their quality. “We knew that if we show our best in each game we could go far,” he explained. “But maybe somewhere in the back of our minds we also knew that we could become the best in Europe.”
Having reached the semi-finals, they met a formidable Benfica side where only penalties were able to separate the pair after a back-and-forth 4-4 draw, with Shayakhmetov slamming home the second spot-kick before international team-mate Robinho completed the win. “The final four is always a special competition. They are the best of the best. When I stepped up to the spot I felt calm. After all it is a competition of skills – mine and the goalkeeper’s. I scored, so in that moment I was the better.”
And so the final followed, taking on record champions Inter – who had lifted the title on three occasions and finished as runners-up twice more, while in comparison Ugra were just fresh from their first national championship win. But upset the odds they did, and in breathtaking style, clinching a pulsating 4-3 victory. “We didn’t allow them to show their strengths,” the big No2 said.
“It was not an accident – we prepared thoroughly, watched lots of videos, worked hard in our training sessions. But,” he admitted, “on a few occasions we were a bit lucky.”
The most heart-stopping of those moments came in the final ten seconds when, with just four men and facing a goalkeeper-less team pouring forward, Inter rattled the post, before Ugra survived an almighty scramble to clinch the trophy. “We expected a very tough final few minutes and anticipated the powerplay from Inter, but it was so much tougher after Ivan Chiskala’s red card. But what can I say? Inter had a good opportunity, but they didn’t take it. That’s what I was saying about luck!”
Shayakhmetov will hope luck is not a necessity for success when he arrives in Colombia for what he expects to be “a real futsal fiesta”. Casting an eye over his group opponents, Thailand, Egypt and Cuba, the former pair are both sides he is keenly aware of. “I saw Thailand a few weeks ago and this team is young and fast,” he said. “One can see the result of the European specialists that have worked there and will be a challenge for any opponent. I also saw Egypt play against Spain and African players are always strong individually.”
There may also be that little bit of extra fire in the belly of the 35-year-old, with this likely to be his final tilt at the global tournament, and has desires on bettering his 2008 showing of reaching the last four. But whatever the outcome, Shayakhmetov has a huge amount of pride in his showings in Russia’s colours. “When you realise you are not so young, and most of your career is behind you, you try to give every bit of what you have left in the tank.
“But I’m a happy player: I will have visited three World Cups. Most of my career has been at the top level and I must feel proud of this. A lot people have helped me reach this point and whenever I enter the pitch in the Russian national team shirt I think of them: I must fight for them, for my country and for everything that helped me reach this game.”