Casado: Putting seven past Brazil was pivotal for Argentina

Back in 2005, Gustavo Casado was running out for the Argentina side that contested the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. A leading figure of that pioneering generation, the former defender appeared in five consecutive beach soccer world finals before playing his last game for La Albiceleste in 2009. He bowed out convinced that he would one day return to the tournament, a day that has been fast approaching since he was appointed Argentina coach in February.

Casado has been preparing for the job ever since he retired from the game. His first step was to head up an Argentinian Football Association (AFA) beach soccer talent-spotting programme. His second was to take charge of Boca Juniors’ beach soccer team, guiding them to two mini club world cup competitions.

Then came the opportunity he had been waiting for all along, which arrived two months before the qualifiers for Portugal 2015.  Though Casado successfully negotiated his first challenge in the Argentina hotseat, he is under no illusions about the demands of the post.

“I can honestly say that I found it easier as a player, because it was a different type of responsibility,” said Casado in conversation with FIFA.com. “I thought I could win games all on my own, that I could turn them around myself and that I was a hero.

“It’s very tough to be a coach, though, and there are a lot of times when I just want to get out on the pitch myself. I played in a few qualifying competitions and I didn’t think there’d be so much pressure on us to get through. You have to remember, though, that Argentina have never missed a World Cup. Luckily we made it.”

Argentina did indeed make it to Portugal, but only just. Casado’s charges went into their final group game against Brazil needing to win and for results elsewhere to go their way to make it to the semi-finals and keep their qualification hopes intact. Peru lent them a helping hand by defeating Uruguay, leaving Argentina’s destiny in their own hands.

“It was a pivotal match for this team,” said the 41-year-old in reference to his side’s subsequent nerve-shredding 7-5 defeat of the Brazilians.

A proud Casado added: “When Peru beat Uruguay and put matters back in our own hands I said to the boys: ‘They’ve given us a chance and we’re going to take it.’ We put seven goals past Brazil, more than anyone else, and even though they equalised a minute from the end, we managed to go on and win.”

Argentina’s travails did not end there, however. A semi-final defeat to Paraguay consigned them to a third-place play off against Ecuador, with a spot at Portugal 2015 at stake, which La Albiceleste only secured after a penalty shootout.

Taking stock of the preliminaries, Casado, a winner in nine of the 15 World Cup matches he played in and a quarter-finalist at Brazil 2005 and Marseille 2008, pointed to the crucial victory over Brazil as the most meaningful match in terms of their preparations for Portugal.

“That match showed us how we need to approach every game in the group phase,” he explained. “With regard to preparation and intensity, that’s what we need to aim for.”

Upcoming opponents La Albiceleste will face the hosts, Japan and Senegal in the group phase at Portugal 2015, a difficult but not impossible task in Casado’s view: “We never beat the Portuguese. They’ve got so many quality players and they’re at home too, but I’ve seen with my own eyes how my players can lift themselves when the odds are against them.”

He added: “Japan are a very complete team. We’ve beaten them in a couple of friendlies this year, but not by much. As for Senegal, they’re athletic, technically gifted but tactically disorganised. They might catch you off guard on an individual level though.”

And what of Argentina? “I plan everything around the opposition goal. We were sharp up front in the qualifiers. Like I said, nobody scored more goals against Brazil and the only team we failed to score against was Paraguay.

“Maybe we lacked a bit of balance, which is what I look for when I round off my preparations: more organisation and intensity when it comes to defending,” added Casado, who started out in Boca Juniors’ youth teams and played for a number of clubs in the Argentinian second division before switching to beach soccer in 2000.

With his arrival in the dugout, Argentina have adopted a new philosophy, switching from a more defensive style of play. The change has not met with any resistance in a squad that contains his old friends Marcelo Salgueiro and the Hilaire brothers, Santiago and Federico, team-mates of Casado’s at that first World Cup in 2005.

“What helped was the fact that though we’d played together for a long time, I’d spent four years away from the national team and all the travelling and tournaments,” he explained. “That created a little bit of distance that’s allowed me to lay down some guidelines and make the switch from team-mate to coach. It’s an experienced unit and they’ve responded to everything better than I expected.”

Having settled into his job and made his philosophy clear, Casado is daring to dream of big things in Portugal: “The first thing I said to the players when I took over was that I didn’t know how long I would be in charge of the national team, but that I’d waited a long time to get here and that I couldn’t let the opportunity go by. I’m going to go for it. I’m going to go for victory in every game. I want to be a world champion.”