Thursday 09 September 2021, 00:00

Espinola: Paraguay have their best team ever

  • Carlos Espinola is one of the oldest players at Lithuania 2012

  • The Paraguay goalkeeper is at his fourth FIFA Futsal World Cup

  • He is confident about his side’s fitness levels and chances

“If I had to name a favourite, it would be Paraguay. I’ve been telling people back home to have faith in us. We’ve prepared well, and I hope they support us all the way because we’re going to make a splash at this World Cup.” That is how Paraguay’s veteran goalkeeper Carlos Espinola rounded off this interview with, but not before revealing his thoughts on what will be his fourth World Cup, expressing his hopes and dreams for Lithuania, and discussing his side’s fitness and conditioning heading into the tournament.

One of the oldest players on duty at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™ and an influential figure in the Paraguay squad, the 40-year-old knows that when he speaks people listen. “Paraguay have come here with their best team ever and in the best shape ever,” he said. “We’ve got a vital blend of youth and experience.” Asked why he believes so much in this Paraguay team, he replied: “One of the reasons why we’ve always come up short in these tournaments before is fitness, but we’ve prepared really well this time and put months of work in, so I think this World Cup is going to be different. We really are in great shape.” Fitness is an area that Paraguay have focused on since their agonising quarter-final defeat to IR Iran at Colombia 2016, when they came within seconds of taking the match to a penalty shootout. “We had a lot of people out injured in that game,” said Espinola. “That’s why I said fitness has always been a shortcoming for us. We’ve improved in that respect, though, and we can go further this time.”

Asked if this could be Paraguay’s tournament, Espinola was unequivocal in his answer: “Yes, I’m really confident. I hope to still be here on the final day.” Most of the Paraguay squad play their futsal in the national league, which has helped coach Carlos Chilavert immensely with his preparations in the last few months. “We started out last November, getting back into the rhythm of things after the pandemic, and we’ve stepped things up this year by training every day,” explained Espinola. “We’ve had six pretty intensive months of preparation and the coach has been able to work with the team whenever he’s needed to.” Now that Paraguay are in fighting shape, it is time for their veterans to step up and lead the way for a squad containing eight Futsal World Cup newcomers. “I’m the most experienced player and it’s the job of us older players to use our knowledge to bring the whole team together,” said Espinola. “The veterans have to step up and deal with the pressure, so that the younger guys playing in their first World Cup are freed from it and can show what they’re capable of.”

Paraguay have a tough challenge ahead of them, starting with Tuesday’s game against Spain, the 2000 and 2004 world champions and one of the tournament favourites. “We’ve got the hardest match first up and we need to be on top of our game,” acknowledged Espinola. “The only way to beat them is to play the perfect game. We know we’re in for a real test.” The South Americans have prepared for the match in the best possible way, playing two warm-up games against European champions Portugal. “We lost both matches because of little details, but we came away with important lessons learned,” said Espinola before explaining the key attributes of this Paraguay side: “We’ve got that typical guaraní grit and determination, which is just part and parcel of being Paraguayan. We chase down every ball, die for every ball, and work our socks off for our team-mates. Spain won’t find it easy.” Wrapping things up, Espinola joined the chorus of voices that believe this will be a very closely fought World Cup, with little between the teams, all of which should benefit Paraguay. “The last World Cup in Colombia showed that anyone can beat anyone,” he said. “And this World Cup will be no different.”

Espinola on his favourite keepers

“He’s got the lot. He has real presence and a lot of character. He does his job well and he’s a leader too. That’s why I like him so much.” On Spain’s Juanjo “I’ve played against him a lot and unfortunately ended up losing more often than not. He’s come on so much and was one of the stars of the last World Cup. He seemed pretty calm and laidback there, but he always stands out when he plays." On Argentina’s Nico Sarmiento “I have to mention him. He’s my team-mate and we’ve been through so many battles over the years. We’ve played together in the national team since the 2012 World Cup in Thailand. One minute he’s the first choice and then, after a spell, it’s my turn. One day he’s in better form, and the next it’s me. There’s a healthy competition between us and we’ve become firm friends on and off the pitch. On Paraguay team-mate Gabriel Gimenez

Russia v Argentina: FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 Final - 01-Oct, 2016