Saturday 04 September 2021, 12:05

Stazzone: I like the pressure of being a world champion

  • Damian Stazzone is a key figure for defending champions Argentina

  • Discusses the team, the Futsal World Cup and their tournament objectives

  • Also gives his view on the domestic futsal scene

It must be a wonderful feeling to see the world champions’ star on your national team jersey when preparing for a World Cup. Just ask Damian Stazzone, one of the mainstays of an Argentina side that is about to run out at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™ to defend the world title they won five years ago. “When I looked at it to begin with it just seemed crazy to have that little badge on my chest,” the 36-year-old defender told “You just have to get used to it, because if every time you play you feel that you’re a world champion and that you have to go out and win, there’ll come a time when you can’t do it anymore. You even run the risk of forgetting about the tactical side of things, which is crucial in this sport. “I’m not saying it’s something that you don’t want to appreciate, but I know that at this level you have to be ready for the moment when you walk out on to the court,” added Stazzone, who is set to appear at his third World Cup. “If you take all those emotions out with you, it’s impossible to play well.”

Nor is he the type to keep looking back: “I’ve got to the stage now where I’m used to things happening fast in sport. You have to enjoy them but there’s no point in dwelling on the good things or the bad. You have to learn from both and keep going.” Yet when all is said and done, Stazzone is happy to be walking out at Lithuania 2021 with the star on his chest and a world title to defend: “Everyone takes it their own way, but I like it. I prefer to have that responsibility than play for something that no one cares about. “Pressure is part and parcel of elite sport. You have to deal with it, and everyone has their own way of doing that. But when you have a good team spirit, you can learn to channel pressure when you’re up against it. We’ve got a great squad, which helps to spread the burden.”

Damian Stazzone, player of the Argentina’s national futsal team

Responsibilities to bear

Discussing the effect the 2016 triumph has had on Argentinian futsal, Stazzone said: “With the title we achieved something we’d always wanted: to increase the profile of futsal with clubs, directors and the media and to get more kids playing it. That’s a lovely responsibility to have too.” Reflecting on his own futsal story, he said: “I got into the game by chance. In Argentina there’s a very popular variation of the game called papi fútbol, which has different rules. You can only play it up to the age of 13, though. Luckily for me, my coach did futsal at San Lorenzo, the club I support, and invited me along. I realised then that I wanted to make a living from it, though that was going to be very tough.” His international debut in 2010 was a revelatory experience. “The guys who played in Europe were better than me in every way, which is why I decided to go there in 2011, to improve,” said Stazzone, who has just completed a media degree and has also done courses on sports management, coaching and development. He was back playing in Argentina when he lifted the World Cup in 2016, which brought in some new offers. “Six of the 14 players who won the World Cup were playing in Argentina, and we all stayed,” he explained. “I stayed partly because of San Lorenzo’s plans. I’d won the Copa Libertadores with them that year. Not the biggest title, but the most special one for sure.” And the other reason why he stayed? “I loved the idea of helping grow the sport in Argentina. And grow it has. There are more players making a living from it now, though there’s always more that needs to be done, like conditions for female players, which still aren’t good enough. That’s why we need more competitive leagues outside Buenos Aires, so they have the same chance to grow and so girls and boys who are good enough can get spotted.” Highlighting futsal’s social role, he added, “It helps girls and boys to stay involved in sport with their local clubs, keeping them off the street.”

Lithuania here we come

As well as reigning world champions, Argentina will also arrive at the World Cup as the winners of the South American qualifiers, after beating hosts Brazil in the final. They followed up with a warm-up tour of Europe, drawing 4-4 with Spain and beating Japan 2-1 and Uzbekistan 3-1, all three of whom will also be at Lithuania 2021. It is no surprise, then, that Argentina are among the tournament favourites. “That’s true, but it’s more to do with what we’ve done in the last five years than us being champions. We have to strike a balance. We can’t go out and think we’re the best, because we’re still not a world power yet, but we can’t lose that belief that we can take on anyone.” So who else is in the mix for the title? “Brazil, Russia, Portugal and Spain. And there’ll be a surprise in store too. In Colombia it was us, and here it could be Venezuela or an Asian team like Japan. It’s going to be a really tough World Cup.” As Stazzone went on to explain, it will almost certainly be his last: “You have to let the next generation come through.”

Damian Stazzone, player of the Argentina’s national futsal team

Casting his eye on Argentina’s group rivals, he said: “USA look the least strong, but that doesn’t mean to say it will be easy. And it’s been a while since we’ve played Serbia and Iran. What with the pandemic, it’s hard to know what we’ll be coming up against.” Stazzone rounded off by setting out Argentina’s objectives in Lithuania: “You can’t come out and say, ‘My goal is to win the World Cup’, because that’s setting the bar really high, and if you don’t make it you’ve failed. I prefer to be cautious. If we get knocked out in the last 16 or the quarter-finals, it’s fair to say it won’t be what we expect, though we don’t know what the circumstances of that would be. We want to make the last four at the very least.”