Talisman in place for Mozambique

Shortly after leading Mozambique to their first-ever FIFA Futsal World Cup finals, captain and goal-scoring hero Ricardo Muendane said that he was not sure that he would be making the trip to Colombia. “For me, taking the team to the World Cup was the end of my road. We have many, many young players. They need to go to that kind of competition to learn.”

But when the 35-year-old Golden Boot winner arrived back in Mozambique, he was naturally begged to reconsider and go to Colombia 2016 in September. “Many people, all around the country, even politicians and my family all said that I should go to the World Cup. So in the end I said: OK, I will go," the captain recently told FIFA.com.

It was a boost to the sport, which has already experienced a boom since qualification. “The sport is not very big in Mozambique as football is much more popular. But after we qualified, it was a huge thing as we made history and suddenly people are talking about futsal, calling us heroes. People recognise me on the street and at my work and in my neighbourhood I am always being asked about it. They go out of their way to wish us luck in Colombia.”

Dampening expectations Luck will be a welcome component for the side after being drawn into a tough group with five-time champions Brazil, Australia and Ukraine, who finished fifth at the last edition in Thailand in 2012. “We know the teams are very good, and it will be very difficult. In the past Brazil we have faced two or three times, and they are a powerful side. Ukraine are also very strong. We do not know much about Australia.”

It is probably a testimony of his vast experience, that Ricardo is realistic about Mozambique’s chances of making the knock-out stage. “We are going to Colombia so that the new players can gain experience. African teams at the World Cup do not need to think about winning the event. We go there to participate and learn about futsal because our cup is the Africa Cup of Nations. We want to achieve as much as we can, but mainly we want to go to learn. It is not possible for us to go to the World Cup to win – no, no, no. At the World Cup we will play against better teams and that is what it is all about.”

Not surprisingly, Mozambique's coach, Abdul Naymo, says he disagrees with his captain, but that it's important to take the event one stage at a time. “My expectation is to reach the second round, which I know that it will be difficult, but we will work hard to manage this.”

Leading the way

Muendane, who lives with his wife and two young children in Mozambique’s capital Maputo, works at a water company and is nicknamed Dino. He believes the team's success at the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, where they finished third to qualify for Colombia was down to the blend in the team. “We had five or six players with a lot of futsal experience. We went to a lot of tournaments and played in Brazil and Portugal. And the coach managed to mix our experience with newcomers, a lot of whom are very good.”

After winning their group in South Africa, Mozambique were beaten by Morocco in the semi-finals, but they secured the third-place finish they needed with a penalty shoot-out against Zambia. “We did not need to go to penalties. We played much better than Zambia. When we got to South Africa, we thought that we could qualify for the World Cup because we were very lucky with the draw . We knew we didn't have to win or finish second, and in the end we were happy to finish third and reach the World Cup.”

For Naymo, Ricardo, who won his second Golden Ball in the CAF event after also doing so in 2008, is a key figure in the team. “I choose Ricardo as captain because he has a lot of experience in leadership. He is very important as all the players respect him. I think in Colombia the world will see his determination and the goals he scores.”