The 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup kicks off this coming September 12th in Lithuania.
The 24 qualifying teams have been divided up into six groups of four teams. Defending champions Argentina is in Group F, with their first match coming against team USA.
Five years ago in Colombia, Argentina won their first FIFA Futsal World Cup, defeating Russia 5-4 in the final. Prior to that, only Brazil (record-holders with five titles) and Spain (two titles) had ever won the tournament.
As a precursor to the upcoming World Cup, we wanted to bring to you a conversation we had with our good friend, coach Diego Giustozzi. Considered one of the top futsal coaches in the world. He is the former head coach of the Argentina Futsal Men’s National Team that won the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup and is currently the Head Coach of ElPozo Murcia, one of the most storied futsal clubs in Spain.
His story of becoming a futsal professional player during the early years of professionalism in Europe and his meteoric rise as a young head coach which culminated in winning the World Cup is inspiring and exemplifies what is possible when you follow your dreams, work hard and seize the opportunities that life has to offer.
This particular story is divided into 3 parts:
Part 1 is about his beginnings in futsal, his first steps as a professional futsal player in Europe, and his first steps as a coach
Part 2 is about how he prepared his team for the 2016 World Cup
Part 3 is a firsthand recollection of the teams’ performance at the World Cup
His beginnings playing futsal in Buenos Aires, Argentina, may sound familiar to many who play futsal here in the U.S., as a child playing soccer and futsal.
D.G. – When I started playing futsal in Argentina, it was somewhat like what happens now in the U.S., the notion of it being a secondary sport, as a complement to the main sport.
Even though he played soccer in the youth divisions of a prestigious soccer club, playing futsal was his passion.
D.G. – I played soccer to become a professional player and was in the youth player development program at River Plate. But I loved the environment around playing futsal, the camaraderie with my teammates, the amateur spirit, the fact that I could play with my friends, that my family was friends with my friends’ families, and to top it off, I loved the game…. being in constant contact with the ball!
But there was a turning point, an opportunity that revealed to him the road to becoming a full-time futsal player, at a time when futsal was beginning to go professional in other places in the world.
D.G. – I started playing on the U16 Futsal National Team, and then I made it to the Men’s team. In those days, we used to train on empty parking lots, we’d set up goals and practice there, and this was with the Argentina Futsal Men’s National Team! And then we’d go to Brazil and play them in front of 8,000 fans! Around that time, futsal was starting to be played professionally in both Brazil and Spain.
It was 1998, and futsal was starting to boom in Europe. Agents from the old continent looking for talent noticed this new crop of young players in Argentina and offered them professional contracts to play in Europe. Diego was a part of those first players who migrated to Europa. He was 19 years old at the time.
D.G. – When I first arrived in Europe, it wasn’t as professional as it is now, but it was something that in Argentina didn’t exist. But from that moment, I understood that this would be my life, that this sport could really become something I could have only dreamed of. That’s why when I go to the U.S. I tell everyone, it can happen there too, and it can become a reality!
Futsal in Europe kept growing, and for him, it meant being at the right place at the right time, taking advantage of the opportunity, and making the most out of it.
D.G. – My professionalism increased hand in hand with how professionalism in the sport itself started to grow. And the luck or merit I had was that as the sport grew, I too grew with the sport.
Diego began his professional career in Italy but aspired to play in Spain, the top league in the world. He landed years later, recruited by Venencio Lopez, one of the top futsal coaches of all time.
D.G – I played 5 to 6 years in Italy, from 1998 to 2003/2004. While playing there, I’m recruited by Venancio Lopez, a significant coach in Spain at the time. For me, playing in the Spanish futsal league was a dream because no other Argentinean player was able to be successful there. Only the best players in the world played in the Spanish Futsal League, and I went and played for 5 years there.
I then played my last few years professionally in Italy and Argentina and then started my coaching career.
Diego played professionally from 1998 to 2013 and, towards the end of his playing years, started coming to terms with the fact that his playing career was coming to an end.
D.G. – I believe I stopped being a player when I could no longer find the motivation to compete with my teammates for a starting position. When I was more concerned about what was beneficial for the team than what it was for me personally….. and I felt like that was the final 3 to 4 years of my playing career. From the time I was 32, 33 years old, I started thinking like that.
Diego had a knack for coaching during his playing years and actively looked for situations and opportunities to learn.
D.G. – As a player, I would prioritize playing on teams that had excellent coaches and where I could learn. In three of the last six decisions I made for where to play, I chose based on who the coach was. But I also wanted to understand the coaches I played against. I took coaching courses while I was a player, I coached and trained youth divisions, I would constantly debate other coaches, and I believe all that was key because, in that way, I was forming my own ideas.
Diego didn’t wait to retire as a player to start coaching, and what happened next was unique and unusual in professional sports.
D.G. – On the last two teams I played professionally in Europe, I became a player/coach.
When I left Spain and went back to Italy, I request that I also coach the youth divisions in the club as part of my player contract. It is something that I loved doing, I miss it, and I believe I’ll do it again someday.
The very first time I coached at a professional level, I was playing in Pescara, and we had a good squad, but we were fighting not to be relegated; as a matter of fact, with seven games left in the season, we were in a position of relegation, and if we kept the same pace, we would have been relegated. A core group of the players on the team went to the team President and said: “Let’s put Diego as a coach.”
So I would train with the team, and for example, during training sessions, I would explain and exercise, that would last 10 minutes, five of those I would participate as a player, and the remaining five I would be off and direct them! And during games, the same way, just that during games, I practically didn’t play. I’d be on the bench suited up as a player but focused on coaching the team. And well, of those remaining 7 games, we won six and tied one, and almost made it into the playoffs, and had we made it in, I think we had a chance of winning the championship!
I went to another team as a player and again became player-coach, but this time, with only three games remaining in the season, and was successful again.
This successful role as player/coach opened the door to new opportunities.
D.G. – And from that point on, I started getting more offers as a coach than as a player. I still wasn’t convinced, though; I was 33 years old, still young to call it quits as a player.
During this time, Diego was also eager to go back to his native Buenos Aires. And little did he know what returning to Argentina to retire as a professional futsal player would mean for his future career.
D.G. – I wanted to go back to Argentina for family reasons and an opportunity to retire in River Plate because I’m a big fan of the club, so I went back. During that time, I start getting some very good offers to coach in Italy from strong clubs with good financial terms. But I decided to wait a bit, and waiting proved to be an excellent decision because soon after, only six months from when I went to play in River Plate, I was offered the coaching position for the Argentina Futsal Men’s National Team, something that clearly changed my life professionally.
Diego Giustozzi’s first two years as Head Coach of the Argentina Men’s Futsal National Team and his blueprint for getting ready for the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup
Diego’s decision to return to Argentina proved to be more than just to retire as a pro futsal player in his beloved club River Plate. His years of playing in Europe, his hard work, and his passion for learning the game had prepared for what was to come next, something that would change his life forever.
D.G. – The previous coach had been there for 27 years and had been my coach for 12 of those 27 years. But it was time for a change, and I was chosen, something I didn’t expect, and I never imagined what happened next! In my first five tournaments as a head coach we play in, we make it to the finals in each one of them, winning three in the span of two years. From that point on, we believed in our capacity to win, and in four years, we played in eleven tournaments, making all eleven finals and winning seven championships!!! That was even more unexpected than having been chosen for the position.
Diego accepted the position and got to work immediately. When he was first presented as head coach, he said :
“I’m always seeking perfection and to unite all the pieces 100%. I’m convinced that what you achieve on the court during the game is a product of the work put in during the week. For me, the work put in during the week is key. Then with everyone’s commitment and professionalism, we won’t have problems. We have to be up to the task both in our game and in getting results. With concentration and sacrifice, we can achieve any objective.”
D.G. – The federation’s facilities and resources were and are very good, but other than that, there was nothing, absolutely nothing that I thought was necessary to win.
Here, they told me the sport is yours, do whatever you want, and truthfully that was incredible, that doesn’t happen anywhere. The federation leadership gave me carte blanche, and the Futsal community received me with open arms.
I had an open-door policy, was empathetic with everyone; I didn’t feel like I was the one and only but rather someone fortunate to be representing my country and opening the door to everyone. And that freedom, that union, and the trust they gave me to do my job made it possible, in a few months, to change the mentality from A to Z, from black to white.
Diego had set ambitious goals for the Team and the program. He also had a clear vision and a clear plan to execute it. During his presentation as the head coach, he also said
“ I believe that discipline leads to professionalism and professionalism to the objective, so I want to maintain that same conduct.”
D.G. – I think the key was that my message to everyone was consistent. I declared that Argentina could win everything, and we don’t have a ceiling, that everything that we set our minds to can do it, and everything is possible. Still, that message was supported by planning and ideas that pointed to that message that everything is possible, that we are going to accomplish it.
The planning, the system of play, what we said privately and what we said publicly…. Everything pointed to that message that it is all possible, and we are going to accomplish it. That was our motto.
“My style of play is aggressive, seeking perfection, recuperating the ball quickly. At the same time, the team has to set the tempo of the game at all times, with the ball and without it. I like my teams to be vertical. At the same time, one must adapt to the circumstances. There will be games where one will have to suffer more, and others when we’ll have the ball more. The workweek is fundamental in order to be ready for all game situations.”
D.G. – We had to set the tempo in all the games we played in, our planning had to be methodical and detailed, we needed to develop a system of play that was better than those of other teams. So we had to work better and smarter than other teams. I think that the key to convincing everyone was that.
So with a vision and a plan, it was time to put up or shut up. With his message that everything is possible backed by a plan of action and tons of hard work, he had convinced everyone that indeed it was possible.
D.G. – I remember that Argentina lost to Brazil 11 – 1 in November 2013.
The first week of March 2014, I coach my first tournament; we beat everyone and get to the final with Brazil and lose 2-1, with the same exact teams on both sides when the score of 11-1.
A month later we play another tournament in Brazil, again we win all our games and make it to the final with Brazil. In preparation for that game, I tell the players, “ I don’t want to show you what Brazil is doing, rather want to show the game we had lost 2-1 a month earlier. I showed them the stats of that game, in which we had dominated the game in time of possession, shots on goal, and we had set the tempo for the game. I said to them, do you remember when I said that we can beat Brazil? Well, these stats demonstrate we can. We ended up beating Brazil in that final, winning for the first time playing them in Brazil!!! from there on, everyone was convinced and wanted to do it again and again.
Diego’s first challenge was to implement a system of play. This required detailed team coordination, which meant he needed his players to put in the time and work. The challenge was that he could only do this with players who played locally….. training in the morning with Diego and evenings at their respective clubs. How was he able to blend those players who were able to train with him on a daily basis with those who played in Europe and were stronger but could only work with occasionally? It took what Diego did best: execute a meticulous plan.
D.G. – On FIFA’s international Match Calendar dates, we could count on having all the players who played in Europe, which were “the best players,” and when we had to play on dates other than those on the FIFA Calendar, we could only do so with players that played locally. So the groups were very different. When we played with the players based in Argentina, the system of play was great because we could put in the time to work on it and played like we wanted to. But the overall quality wasn’t the same as when we could count on the players who played in Europe…….on the other hand, when we were able to play with them, the quality was great but what suffered was the system of play. Our virtue was the ability to adapt to two different groups and convince them in a different way.
But we were able to compete and win with both groups, were able to hit the right note psychologically. When we got to the time when we had to play tournaments where we had to take the very best ones, we were able to unify both groups, and by the time we got to the World Cup, we had both things: We had a sound system of play, and we had quality.
Diego had executed his plan to perfection, combining a system of play and quality players. But the World Cup was coming up, and he had to make some important decisions in preparation for the ultimate competition.
D.G. – Without a doubt, we won the World Cup because our preparation was better than anyone else’s. I did something different; I had to do it differently because if you do what others are doing, the same teams will keep winning. I saw how the best teams were preparing, like Italy, Russia, Spain, Brazil. They all generally have their teams’ players and coaching staff lockdown together in one place for an extended period of time.
I decided not to do that. I increased the number of weeks we would work but gave them the freedom to sleep wherever they wanted to and maintain their daily routines because I knew that preparing and playing a World Cup creates a lot of pressure, and what happens is that the pressure is such, that if you lock the players down for an extended period, by the time the World Cup starts, players are ready to go home. Then you have a month-long competition ahead, plus the pressure to play.
So I did the complete opposite, I extended the time we would work on preparing, but I allowed the players to live their normal lives so that when it was time to play the World Cup, they’d be ready to travel.
So what was the message to his players on their way to Columbia in September 2016?
D.G. – We were going with the clear expectation to win. So the message was: we are going to win the World Cup, but let us not forget who we are and where we come from. Let’s not lose that humility and keep our feet on the ground, BUT also not forget what we had accomplished until now, that we had won with humility and sacrifice and could do it again.
Diego Giustozzi’s firsthand story of Argentina’s road to the Futsal World Cup Championship in 2016
The 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup was the eighth one organized. The tournament was held in Columbia from September 10th to October 1st, 2016. Brazil and Spain had won all seven previous tournaments. Argentina would end up winning the 2016 World Cup, breaking their hegemony.
One of the most important factors in obtaining the title was the leadership of Head Coach Diego Giustozzi. In the player’s words, he was the leader.
Below is HIS firsthand recollection of what it was like:
Argentina was a part of Group E together with Kazakhstan, Solomon Islands, and Costa Rica
D.G. – We knew, by how the groups were drawn, that if we won our group, and all other group favorites won their respective groups, we would go into the playoff rounds together with Italy and Portugal, who even though were favorites to beat us, we would avoid Brazil and Spain.
On paper, the two favorites to win Group E were Kazakhstan and Argentina.
D.G. – Our first game was against Kazakhstan, who were coming off a second or third place in the European Championships, and the team was made up entirely of players who played on the same club team AND were the current Champions League winner!
That was their National Team….so they played by memory and had 4 to 5 Brazilian-born players on the team.
An extremely tough game! The same way we knew that it was best for us to come in first in the group, so did they, we spoke a different language, but we think the same!
So it was a game of chess…. They played a lot with the fifth attacker, and they did it at a high level. We prepared the game extremely well, and we won it 1-0 with a steal from their keeper and a goal from goal to goal….. a game of chess. What did that win do? It relaxed us; we thought we won the group, the next game against the Solomon Islands, we won it easily but didn’t play well at all. And against Costa Rica, we almost lost! The game ended in a 2-2 tie, which still left us in first place in the group, but we were losing 0-2 with five minutes left in the game!
Winning the first game against Kazakhstan had had a huge impact on the team. On the one hand, it put them in the driver’s seat to win their group, which was their first objective; the collateral effect was that the team relaxed and lost its way. But it was Diego’s leadership at this low point that rescued the team from complete collapse.
D.G. – At the time, I thought we weren’t going to win the tournament. That I had made a mistake, that I was wrong, and the team fell into the trap of thinking we were better than what we were. Perhaps it was my inexperience. I said, like this, we are going nowhere; we lost our way. And I remember we had practice after that game when we had a very strong argument with the team’s captain and some key players. And we returned to the hotel, and I called a meeting with some of the players, not all of them……and I laid into them. And I believe that at that moment there was a “click” and we changed our attitude. We went on to play the Round of 16 game against Ukraine, a very tough game, and we really played a great game, winning 1-0 with a goal from the second penalty spot with a minute and a half remaining in the game. We should have won 4-0 in a game, they didn’t have a shot on goal, and we had many, we played spectacularly!
What was the message that, as Diego says, “changed the attitude of the team?
D.G. – At that point, my feelings about the team had changed, and I told the players, do you realize how we are when we are afraid to lose when we are humble, when we keep our feet on the ground…..we are unbeatable, unbeatable!
If we WANT to be better than the other team, we are unbeatable; on the other hand, if we THINK we are better than the other team, anyone can beat us. I believe the team understood the message. On top of that, we were ready to play Italy in the quarterfinals, but Egypt beat them in the round of 16! Incredible…
Argentina was in the quarterfinals after beating Ukraine in the round of 16. On paper, next up was Italy, one of the most elite teams in the world. But what happened surprised everyone.
D.G. – Italy had our number; we had never beaten Italy, ever. I personally had never done so. I remember being in the hotel we were all watching the game, and I was so nervous I couldn’t even watch it; I’d walk away not to watch but couldn’t stop thinking about it either….. I would walk around the hotel…… on top of it, Egypt was winning the game!
Italy ties the game with seconds left in regulation and forces the game into overtime, and I said, that’s it, they’ll win the game! And in overtime, Egypt scored, and they beat them! At that moment, I said, If we aren’t capable of winning the tournament this time, we’ll never have a better chance again. And from there on, we beat Egypt 5-0, I believe the best game we ever played, they barely were able to play in our half…our players were flying… I remember I had two players coming back from injuries on the bench, Boruto, and Rescia two of our best players, and they were upset because I wouldn’t put them in the game because I saw that it wasn’t necessary to put them in the game, and they were itching to get on.
We went on to the semifinals to play Portugal, and we neutralized both Ricardinho and Cardinal and won 5-2 but had been up 4-0, and even in the final game against Russia, we were dominant…… we were up 5-2, and in the last minute of the game they scored twice to make it 5-4, and we had to suffer. But from the round of 16 onwards, the team was firing on all cylinders, and no matter who we faced, we could beat them.
Brazil and Spain were eliminated in the round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively, so the other bracket was wide open, but was it just a fluke? Or did the best teams advance?
D.G. – What happened is that they were eliminated by teams that were better than they were. So logically, the press, people, and even the players would say, it’s done; now that Italy, Brazil, and Spain are out, it is going to be easy…. But I said, watch it, because the team that eliminated Spain beat them 6-2, and that was Russia who was, in my opinion, the team that was playing better than anyone, winning all their games with ease….. and Iran had a very strong team as well! And in the semifinals Russia and Iran face each other, we play against Portugal, and in my opinion, the two best teams from the other bracket were playing each other., and even though Spain and Brazil had the name, the tradition, the experience, in my opinion, Russia and Iran were better teams during the tournament than they were. So Russia beats Iran, Russia was unstoppable…. and we beat Portugal and reach the finals against them.
And the stage was set for the final game of the 2016 FIFA World Cup – Argentina – Russia, Russia – Argentina. And there were two situations prior to the game that illustrates Diego’s and the teams’ state of mind before the most important game in their lives.
D.G. – I’ll never forget two situations….. the first one was the day before the final game, I’m locked in my room preparing the game, imagine, I was going at a million miles an hour….. as a coach you want to leave no stone unturned, I’m only 38 years old and coaching a World Cup Final!!! I studied them and could see that Russia was a machine! The games they played weren’t even close, and most games were a thrashing!! So, I’m studying each one of their games, trying to figure out what we can do, and at one point I look out the window in my room, and I could see all my players in the pool….. jumping, doing backflips, playing with their kids, with there friends, and looked like they were on vacation. And suddenly, here comes the Russian team, all walking in single file behind their coach, military-style…. It looked like they were either coming or going to a video session or a practice….. and contrast that with my players goofing around, sunbathing, with their friends…… definitely contrasting!!!
And the second situation was during warmup before the game…, and I’m sitting on the bench watching their team warmup, and their smallest player was 6 feet tall and on our side, imagine guys that are 5’ 7” and skinny like a stick, and I remember looking at my assistant coach and telling him: this is like Ivan Drago vs. Rocky Balboa!
At only 38 years old, he was at the brink of accomplishing something only a select few ever accomplish—one game to decide it all, for all or nothing.
D.G. – The truth is that the final was the game I was the least nervous in… because let’s not kid ourselves; in a way, we had already made history, making it to the final of the World Cup…. In Argentina, we were on the cover of every newspaper, every magazine, on every tv program; the game was being watched by millions.
So the sensation was of ease, that we were doing well and no matter what happened next we had done a good job getting here, and on the other hand I thought, we are only a step away from being World Cup Champions, it’s them or it’s us….. and of course I went with it’s them, or it’s us, it’s all or nothing!!! And the pregame pep talk was to motivate them and say we’ll beat them.
And I remember that once the game started and we were six to seven minutes in the first half, I turned around and told my assistant, we’ll beat them today…. We are playing our game, and they are not playing theirs; I could see it! And they were also nervous, it was a game with a lot of friction, a mental game, very competitive, and that benefited us.
So they score first and go up 1-0, but less than a minute later, we tie the game, and a few minutes later, we go up 2-1…. And from that point on, we stayed ahead.
After the World Cup, Diego remained as head coach for almost two more years. At the end of his tenure there, he had coached in 11 tournaments, making it to the final game in every single one of them and winning seven titles.
D.G. – I had two sensations in Argentina; in my opinion, my work there was not finished. I believe I could do more with the youth divisions and leave something that would be enduring.
But sincerely, there were two factors: one was that we already won everything, every tournament we played in we won, except for the South American Games where we won two silver medals.
The other factor was the peace of mind and certainty I had that if I left, the structure we built would continue, and I was convinced and sure that Argentina would stay on course, and win or lose, the work ahead would remain the same. So both those factors helped me in my decision.
Matias Lucuix, Diego’s first assistant, was named Head Coach of the Argentina Men’s Futsal National Team when Diego left in August of 2018, giving continuity to what started back in 2014 when Diego was handed the reins of the sport in Argentina and took it to the top of the world.
D.G. – The incoming coach was intelligent, knowing there was an idea everyone believed in, and hasn’t changed anything, and with it, they keep winning, of course adding his ideas, which is how it should be, but the ethos is the same.
Diego left what he had built and won within Argentina and became the Head Coach of ElPozo Murcia, one of the most storied futsal clubs in Spain, and an opportunity to coach in the top futsal league in the world, the LNFS. His desire to face this new challenge and risk it all speaks for his competitiveness and willingness to keep growing as a coach –