Sunday 03 October 2021, 16:00

TSG experts run the rule over the finalists

  • The TSG’s Graeme Dell and Miguel Rodrigo break down Argentina and Portugal

  • Discuss the strengths of both teams and where the final will be won and lost

  • Potential matchwinners identified

Argentina and Portugal will come face to face at the Kaunas Arena on Sunday in the final of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™.

The South Americans are out to retain the title they won in Colombia five years ago, while the reigning European champions, who are contesting their first World Cup final, are aiming to become only the fourth team to win the competition.

Both sides are very well-drilled units coached by two men capable of changing games in a moment and making the right decisions, assets that have taken them all the way to the tournament’s showpiece match.

For more insight into how the two teams have made it to the final and into their technical and tactical development across the tournament, spoke to Graeme Dell and Miguel Rodrigo, the two Technical Study Group (TSG) members on duty in Lithuania.

Argentina: a slick machine

Asked to pinpoint the strengths that have taken Argentina through the knockout phase, Dell said: “They have put a lot of work into the high press, which sets them apart from other sides. Their style of play and gameplan are cohesive.

"Their players are very technical and when they’re not on the ball, they’re tenacious and very good at frustrating the opposition, which is what they did against Brazil in the semi-finals. When they don’t have possession, Argentina try to get it back quickly by working together and getting two and even three men around the ball.”

Turning his attention to their tactics, he added: “They’re comfortable in 1v1 situations and when they look to play a direct, fluid game. [Cristian] Borruto is a versatile player with a tremendous work rate and he’s always looking to get on the end of balls from [Constantino] Vaporaki, [Leandro] Cuzzolino and [Alan] Brandi. Argentina’s attacking game revolves around them.”

Rodrigo also highlighted Argentina’s technical and tactical strengths: “When they’re defending, they each work hard in 1v1 situations and on getting back and pressing, and no matter what position they’re in on the court they’re always so well organised. They’re mentally ready to defend in three lines. It’s not a problem for them. And in attack, they play a very direct and effective game, which has paid off handsomely for them thanks to their fantastic technical ability.”

Portugal: Options aplenty

In focusing on Portugal and their tactics, Dell spoke of a team that puts the collective before individual strengths: “The key is the fluidity of their play. They’re flexible and the most important thing is that they know how to play when the opposition is pressing. They can switch to different systems, and they’re a great example of a team that can move seamlessly between 1-3, 3-1, 2-2 and 4-0 formations, often in the same phase of the game.”

He added: “They’re exceptionally talented, they use a high press to put the opposition under pressure, and they usually make strong starts to periods. They also have an ability to recover physically and mentally from tough matches, like the two they had against Spain and Kazakhstan. You can see how assured they are and the confidence they have in Jorge Braz’s gameplan. That shows how strong his leadership is and is shows the respect that a coach needs to command for a team to be successful.”

Heaping praise on Portugal, Miguel saw their ability to edge close games as a definite positive: “They’re well drilled, organised and they play with the assurance that comes with surviving two games that went to extra time and one that went to penalties. They know what it means to go down to the wire. Mentally, that gives them an edge because they’re used to those situations. When they’re on the attack, they’re clearly a 4-0 team but when Zicky and Erik are on court it gives them more width and they can play a 3-1 system with the pivot.”

Discussing the Portuguese threat from dead-ball situations, Dell said: “The set-piece has been so important for them. They’ve executed them successfully and they’ve mixed them up too. Argentina have shown what they can do with them as well. They’ve both got some innovative and slick moves up their sleeves and they also know how to defend them.” Miguel added: “Both teams are smart when it comes to set-pieces and they see them as goalscoring opportunities.”

Key figures

The two coaches are sure to have a big impact on Sunday’s final. Whereas Braz has seen and done it all, Matias Lucuix is a relative newcomer. “They’ll both need to be clear on their gameplans. That will be crucial,” said Rodrigo. “They both like to win, despite the age difference between them. It’s a great chance for coaches around the world to watch and learn how to manage a team on a tactical and emotional level.”

Dell added: “Lucuix’s path to victory involves careful planning and lots of structure, while Braz prefers a more fluid style of play. I’m interested in seeing how the technical and tactical battle unfolds and how they change their gameplans as the game goes on.”

Turning to the players, Rodrigo said Argentina’s experienced campaigner Alan Brandi and rising star Zicky were the two pivots that have made the biggest impact at the World Cup: “That’s going to be one of the keys to the game: those balls down the middle and how Andre Coelho and Maxi Rescia, two of the best defenders in the world, counter them. Then there are Borruto and Pany, two players who pose a real threat in the 1v1 and can unlock defences.”

Dell added: “To my mind, the most influential player is Brandi. He’s tall, strong and sharp, and he’s vital to the way they play with the ball and when they fall back into defence. His work rate is exceptional.”

Other players to catch the eye of the TSG duo are Argentina keeper Nico Sarmiento, the winner of the adidas Golden Glove at Colombia 2016, and Bebe, who starred in Portugal’s semi-final win against Kazakhstan. “Sarmiento has been very consistent throughout the tournament and Bebe has been right up there too,” they said. “They’ve both had crucial parts to play in their teams’ runs to the final.”

There is, of course, also a mention for the departing Ricardinho. “His role has changed,” said Dell. “He’s more creative now and most of Portugal’s play goes through him. He plays the most passes, provides the most assists and he’s vital for them.”

Concurring with that view, Rodrigo said: “Portugal are more dangerous when he’s on the court. Nobody plays more assists or passes than him and his ability to perform at the very highest level in what is his last World Cup match could prove the difference.”