Saturday 24 September 2016, 09:34

All in the details for superstitious Chilavert

"I wouldn't rule out Iran beating Brazil. I'm serious," were the words of Carlos Chilavert, shortly after his Paraguay side had clinched their place in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016. La Albirroja had just knocked out the host nation and, with a view to possible opponents, Chila had an eerie feeling that the Iranians would sink A Seleção - a prediction that came true the following day as they pulled off one of the biggest feats in Futsal World Cup history.

Chilavert also clearly recalled the last time Paraguay tackled Iran. "It was in the semi-finals of the Uberaba Grand Prix and they beat us 2-0. That said, it is the case that I took a young team to that tournament, so I think this game will be different," added the 40-year-old supremo.

A changing mentality He has several good reasons to think that way with Paraguay, even in defeat in their opening group game versus Italy, fully demonstrating their main qualities: disciplined marking, solid transitions and a level of firepower that, paradoxically, dwindled against Colombia.

"We had enough patience to create a lot of chances, we simply couldn't get the ball in the net," said Chila of the 0-0 Round of 16 draw, that his side won in a shoot-out. "We just lost our way a bit in some first-half lapses and we allowed counter-attack situations that could have cost us dear. But it would have been harsh had we been knocked out. It was one of the team's best performances."

It is a team that appears to bear the stamp of the former defender, who cut his teeth on the fiercely competitive Italian futsal scene. "I don't know if it bears my stamp, but yes, they have gained consistency. Before we'd play well but we'd lose games by fine margins. I'd go so far as to say that it was more of a mental issue than a footballing one.

"Perhaps some of my former team-mates still find it hard to believe me when I tell them I can see things more clearly from the sidelines," said Chilavert, who appeared at two Futsal World Cups as a player, with a chuckle. "But I keep insisting to them: even if we're going to take risks, we can't give anything away. And they must learn how to read games for themselves."

Snappy dressing At one point in our conversation Juan Salas appeared, the pivot who racked up some unbelievable misses against Colombia. "If we'd have been knocked out, I'd have made you catch the bus back to Paraguay!" shouted Chilavert in jest to his player and erstwhile national-team colleague, who replied: "I did it because I like to see you suffer!"

And it is that synergy and group harmony that is one of the foundation stones of Paraguay's campaign so far. Look no further than Chilavert's decision to switch keepers for the shoot-out, with replacement Carlos Espinola saving twice to put La Albirroja into the last eight.

"Carlos and Gabriel have known each other for ages," he explained. "We did the same thing in the final of the 2012 qualifying tournament, but in reverse, with Espinola starting and Gimenez coming in for the shoot-out against Argentina. Why did I make the change against Colombia? It was pre-agreed with them and the keeping coach. It has to do with how much practice they've had and how confident they feel."

Confidence too is a theme within the whole team, with that belief also fuelled by non-futsal factors, such as Chilavert ditching his tracksuit in favour of a sharp suit after the opening-game loss to Italy. "It suits me, doesn't it?" said the coach with a wide grin, as the interview concluded. "I'm superstitious and the change has worked so far. It feels a bit strange but it's brought me luck, so the suit stays!"