Tuesday 28 September 2021, 03:00

Sarmiento: We're very proud that Messi is watching us

  • Brazil and Argentina meet in the Lithuania 2021 semi-finals

  • La Albiceleste keeper Nico Sarmiento looks ahead to the game

  • Praises his colleague and friend Lucas Farach, the shootout hero of the quarter-final win over RFU

No sooner had Lucas Farach pulled off the save that gave Argentina a penalty-shootout win over RFU in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™ than he was engulfed by his jubilant team-mates. Among them was fellow goalkeeper Nico Sarmiento, who had lots to say to La Albiceleste’s hero of the hour as they embraced. Seconds earlier, the two had shared a knowing look as Romulo walked up to take RFU’s seventh spot-kick. It was a look that led to Farach replacing Sarmiento between the posts. “When he looked over at me I could see he was full of confidence, and when he asked me if we could swap, we didn’t think twice,” Sarmiento told FIFA.com. That snap decision proved to be an inspired one as Farach denied Romulo to send Argentina into the semis, where their arch-rivals Brazil await. We spoke to Sarmiento, the winner of the adidas Golden Glove at Colombia 2016, about his relationship with his team-mate, that quarter-final duel, his hopes of winning the Futsal World Cup again, what it means to play against Brazil, and a special message posted on social media.

FIFA.com: Did you get a lot of messages after the RFU games? Nico Sarmiento: Loads! Everyone was so happy, though we’d really put them through it, even people who’d never watched a futsal match before and have got into it now. We’re so happy that we brought a smile to the faces of our families and friends. There was even a message on Instagram for you from a certain football player who’s currently in Paris... We’re all big fans of his here. If you don’t like [Lionel] Messi, you don’t like football! Everyone in the squad loves football and we’re very proud that the best player in the world is watching us. Knowing that Messi is following us is another source of motivation for the Brazil game. How did it feel to have two of you – you and your team-mate Lucas Farach – saving penalties in a shootout to qualify for the last four? Now the dust has settled, we’re very happy. We know how difficult it is to get to the semi-finals of a World Cup. It feels great to be able to contribute by saving penalties. It’s an all-or-nothing situation and for the last few weeks we’ve been training for it and working on it with the coaches and our team-mates.

How do you prepare for a penalty shootout? Smashing the ball about in training! (laughs) In the weeks leading up to the tournament, the rest of the team worked on their penalty-taking technique and we tried saving them. The goalkeeping coach, Nico Noriega, and the video analyst have been showing us videos of opposition penalty takers before each game, so we can see what their little habits are and how they run up to the ball. They try to make sure we have as much information as possible. When your nerves are jangling and the adrenaline’s pumping, if the information isn’t clear you tend to forget it. You seemed very happy when Farach made the decisive save against RFU? I was absolutely thrilled for Lucas. I know how hard he’s worked and fought to make this World Cup and to be ready for whenever he’s needed. When he looked over at me before the last penalty I could see he was full of confidence, and when he asked me if we could swap, we didn’t think twice. We have a great relationship and that makes things much easier. We help each other out all the time. Was it you two who made the decision or is it up to the coaches? The boss gives us a lot of freedom to decide if something feels better for the pair of us. We spoke about it with him and the goalkeeping coach before the shootout. We decided who’d be going in for each penalty and that if it went to sudden death, then we’d just take it penalty by penalty. Knowing that we have each other’s support and that of our team-mates makes us go out there feeling a lot calmer, which can make all the difference when the pressure’s on. You have a habit of bending down and striking the floor. Can you explain what that’s about? It’s not something I put a lot of thought into. (Smiles) I don’t really have an explanation for it. Sometimes I see the videos and I ask myself, ‘What the heck am I doing?’ (laughs). It just happens but it’s not something I can or even want to change. It’s just part of me. It comes out and it’s how I suffer, experience and enjoy games.

Nicolás Sarmiento during a match vs RFU

In the match against RFU, the fifth foul you picked up in the second half changed the game... It meant we had to change our gameplan. We’re playing a knockout match that could easily be the final and we obviously have to watch our step when going in for 50-50 balls. We knew we couldn’t press because they’ve got some players who excel in one-on-one situations, which means that any kind of contact can be a foul. They had a double penalty and, fortunately, I managed to save it. What does it mean to be facing Brazil in a World Cup match? (pauses) I hope it’s a great game and I hope we win. We’re expecting an entertaining game because, player for player, we’re coming up against the best team in the tournament. We’ll have to do what we did against RFU and cancel out their best players and make the most of our chances. We’re blessed and it’s a dream to be facing Brazil at the World Cup. You beat RFU here, having also beaten them in the final in 2016, and now you’re up against Brazil, having beaten them in their backyard in the qualifiers in 2020... If we can get an emotional boost from that, then great, but what happens at previous tournaments isn’t a lot of use. It’s not just another game for them or for us. When you’re born in Brazil or Argentina, it’s always special when the two sides meet. It’s a game that anyone who’s ever kicked a ball has always wanted to play. If there’s an Argentinian out there who doesn’t want to play Brazil, then they should give up sport. We’ll take their passport away. (laughs) It’s unique, a dream. That’s the way we look at it. It fills us with desire, enthusiasm and motivation. Do you feel pressure at being the reigning champions? No, we’re under no pressure because of that. Our objective is still to try and do all we can in each game so we can make it to the final. We try to use positive reinforcement and ignore external pressures. Most of us have played in World Cups before and we know that keeping a cool head really counts in tournaments like this.

Ferrao receiving the ball with his back to goal, Rodrigo shooting from all angles, the magic of Pito and Leozinho… How do you prepare to face Brazil’s attacking threat when you’re a keeper? With Brazil I always approach games in the same way. We know that every pass and every attack is dangerous. Ultimately, it was the same against RFU with Robinho, [Ivan] Chishkala, Eder Lima and the rest of them. With teams like that you can’t relax for a second. Every minute counts and if you switch off at all, you can pay dearly for it. You won the adidas Golden Glove at Colombia 2016. How important is it for you to maintain that level here? My aim here is to help the team and be on top of my game. That’s what makes me happy, not winning individual awards. That’s what I worked, trained and prepared for before the tournament. I want my team-mates to have the confidence to play and to know that I’m going to be there for them in every situation. What would it mean to you to be world champions again? We’re taking it one game at a time. After all, we’ve got Brazil next. I don’t want to think any further ahead than that. It would be a mistake if we did. That’s the philosophy that’s brought us this far and helped us win the World Cup in 2016, and we want to keep on pursuing it in the national team set-up.