Wednesday 14 September 2016, 11:49

Animated Salas vows to keep on fighting

Javier Salas’ Paraguay team-mates had plenty to say when he dyed his hair peroxide blond in the lead-up to the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016. “You look like Goku when he goes Super Saiyan,” was just one of the comments that came his way.

Though that was not the reason behind Salas’ decision to change his hair colour, the 22-year-old just happens to have a quite a few things in common with the central character of the popular Japanese anime television series Dragon Ball Z, whose dark hair turns blond whenever he transforms into the highest class of warrior.

Like the cartoon character, Salas becomes a warrior himself when he steps on to the court. You only have to watch him urging his team-mates on, battling for every ball and making a clearance into the second tier of seating at Cali’s Coliseo el Pueblo to see that. The message he projects is clear: Paraguay will battle for every ball, even when they are trailing.

“I’m passionate about playing futsal, which is what I love doing more than anything else, and I hate losing,” a relaxed Salas told, putting behind him his side’s defeat to Italy in their opening game, which came despite twice taking the lead. “The thing is, we made mistakes, which is something we spoke about with the coach. When the next match comes round, you’ll see a stern-faced and angry Javier Salas again,” he added with a smile.

As the player went on to explain, he has worked hard to keep a lid on his emotions: “I’ve improved a lot in the last couple of years. I used to get wound up about the least little thing. Before the second half against Italy, my brother (team-mate Juan Salas) came up to me and said: ‘Use your head’,” he added, tapping his temple with his right ring finger.

No lack of confidence That very attitude is one of the attributes that helped the younger of the Salas boys make the move to the powerful Italian league at the age of only 18, first to Lazio and then to Pescara. He is the only player in the Paraguay squad, in fact, who is currently plying their trade in Europe.

His passion for the game is such that his sibling, who, like him, also played at Thailand 2012, is able to get under his skin on occasion: “Like our father, I’m a Cerro Porteno fan, and like our mother, he supports Olimpia. They’re the two biggest teams in Paraguay. I’m a real fanatic and when he winds me up, I tend to get angry.”

Likewise, goalkeeper and room-mate Gabriel Gimenez tries to knock Javier off his game whenever the two play FIFA 16 to while away the downtime in Colombia, with five or ten dollars at stake per match. “The difference is, he can’t do it,” said a laughing Salas. “It doesn’t work for him and nor does playing with Real Madrid. He can’t handle me or Arsenal.”

Turning his attention to Paraguay’s next opponents, surprise packages Vietnam, Salas acknowledged that he and his team-mates will need to show more than the traditional guaraní grit and determination: “We watched them. They’re skilful, quick, and they press hard. We did a lot of good things in the first half against Italy, though, especially in defence. The key will be to dictate the pace of the game, not let them do it.”

Determined to keep the faith, Salas is confident he will be celebrating his 23rd birthday in Colombia come 22 September. “We know we’ve got two finals left and that we have to win them. We still believe we can go far in the tournament.”