- Leo Higuita has been voted best futsal goalkeeper five times in six years
- He confides his admiration for Taynan and Douglas, his teammates in the Kazakhstan team
- The Brazilian-born discusses the goals of his adopted country
“A goalkeeper cannot be voted best footballer of the year in the long term, like Messi or Ronaldo”, regrets Manuel Neuer. “It only takes one mistake and the whole season is over.”
It should be noted that no one has ever won the Golden Glove of the FIFA World Cup ™ or, let alone, the title The Best – FIFA Goalkeeper more than once. The same goes for beach soccer: five players shared the six Best Goalkeeper awards at the Beach Soccer Stars ceremony.
However, futsal is an exception to the rule: Leo Higuita does not play for a big club or for a top national team, which has not prevented him from winning this coveted title on five occasions, out of the last six. years. Despite this glittering record, the 35-year-old remaining stronghold remains deeply affected by a mistake made during the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 ™.
He returns to this episode in an interview with FIFA.com; he also evokes two of his teammates in selection and the ambitions of Kazakhstan.
Leo, what is your assessment of Kazakhstan’s course in Colombia?
We certainly could have done better. I have two big regrets in my career. As soon as you broach this subject, it annoys me. The first concerns my expulsion against Benfica, in the Champions League, last year. It was a complicated time, because of the pandemic, but Kairat had managed to build a great team, which deserved this title. I made a mistake and was kicked out. Then I was suspended for the semi-final against Barcelona, which we lost by one goal. I feel responsible. The second takes us back to the 2016 World Cup. I don’t like to think about it again. I conceded a silly goal against Argentina and we lost 1-0.
If we had obtained the point of the draw, we would have finished at the top of the group because we had a better goal difference. The rest would have been very different … During the second phase, Argentina met Ukraine and Egypt. We fell on Spain and we were eliminated after a very close game. Argentines owe me a tour after that! The Russians can thank us too: they faced a Spanish team on their knees in the quarter-finals. Argentina won the tournament. If I hadn’t made this mistake, who knows what would have happened? This is a question I will ask myself for the rest of my life.
On a personal level, how did you experience this Futsal World Cup?
There is nothing more beautiful to play in a World Cup. This is true for futsal, but also for football and beach soccer. It only happens once every four years and, within a few weeks, all eyes converge in one place. There is an extraordinary atmosphere. It’s fabulous to be a part of it. On the ground, we find all the great world powers. Every match is a battle. You cannot imagine the repercussions that the 2016 World Cup had on our country. People got up at two or three in the morning to watch our matches. We were getting messages at six in the morning saying, “I can’t sleep! You are amazing!” The whole country was behind us. I have no words to describe what it feels like at such times.
What do you think of your opponents from the first round in Lithuania?
To be honest, there are more difficult groups. Venezuela is not an easy team to maneuver. It created a surprise in the South American qualifiers, that is to say the continent where futsal was born. I expect the Venezuelans to give us a lot of problems. Costa Rica are regulars at the World Cup and delivered great performances during the Concacaf preliminary competition. These players can still make a hit. You will have to be wary of them. As the host country, Lithuania will have the advantage of playing in front of their supporters. At this level, you have to take every game seriously, but overall you can say that we have avoided the heavyweights. The group with Argentina, Iran and Serbia seems much more indecisive to me.
Kazakhstan lost 5-2 to Spain in 2016 but since then you have held the Roja in check at the Euro futsal (5-5) and you gave Russia a hard time. Do you feel stronger than five years ago in Colombia?
Without a doubt. It is the Kazakhs who make the difference today. They already had talent, but now they are more powerful, faster and, above all, they have more of a feel for the game. Previously, the team depended a lot on its foreigners. Of course, we still play an important role. I even think we are at the top of our game. But the Kazakhs have really taken a step forward. In a World Cup, anything can happen, but I am convinced that we are better armed than in 2016.
What are your goals in Lithuania?
Collectively, we haven’t decided anything. For my part, I always try to improve. I am therefore aiming for a place in the quarter-finals, at a minimum. We’re on a good streak and we’re definitely in the top six or seven teams in the world. I don’t want to set the bar too high by talking about the semi-finals or the final right away. I intend to reach the quarter-finals, but everything will depend on the group stage. The teams that finish first generally have a much easier opponent in the round of 16. Then, from the quarter-finals, there are only very high level teams left. There are no favorites, with the exception of Brazil, who are always expected to win. But that reputation didn’t stop him from bowing to Iran five years ago. It proves that anything can happen.
What do you think of Taynan and Douglas, your teammates?
Taynan is a superstar. In the field, he can do everything. In addition to being incredibly talented, he thinks very quickly, he is inventive and he never gives up. It’s a pleasure to evolve alongside people like him, players who give their all to win. It is second to none in modern futsal. Frankly, I don’t see any player that you could compare him to.
Douglas, this is the revelation. I did not know him. No one knew him. He only spent a year in Brazil, in the Rio Grande do Norte. When he got to Kairat, I didn’t really pay attention to him. But it didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself. It is the best fixed in the world, by far! Its register is absolutely huge. I’m very lucky to have teammates like Douglas, Taynan or Leo, who also deserve a mention. That’s why I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t have a good World Cup: we have everything to be successful.
Who do you think is the best player in the world right now?
Ferrao continues to fly over the competition, Taynan is not far but, for me, it’s Douglas. He’s scoring, he’s imperial in defense, he’s very smart, he has an extraordinary sense of the game, he’s rough and he goes all out for 40 minutes no matter what. He’s a real champion. I’m not saying that because he’s playing with me in Kairat. In my eyes, Douglas is the most complete player in the world and therefore the best. He is rather discreet, he does not tell himself stories. If he was more present in the media, his name would already be on everyone’s lips.
Speaking of players who love the spotlight … you are also known for your goals and assists.
In Brazil goalkeepers have been kicking for years but when I arrived in Europe it was still quite rare. I ran into goalies who were comfortable in the kicking game, but they weren’t very involved in the construction. I have always liked to pass and score. Our first Champions League coronation with Kairat was extraordinary. The whole team played a very offensive and aggressive game. We took everyone by surprise. No one could find the parade. At the time, a lot of people thought it was a hopeless feat. When we won our second Champions League in three seasons (with a semi-final in between), other teams started to take us seriously. They took a closer look at what we were doing and they evolved. It was the start of a new era for futsal.
They say I changed the way of playing futsal. For me, my family and my friends, this is a source of great pride. I have known goalkeepers who were about as good as me at the foot, but I was lucky because Kairat believed in me. My coaches felt I could become a fifth fielder. When we hear futsal legends say that we have completely revolutionized the practice of the discipline, we can’t help but be proud and moved.