- Venezuelan injured in qualifiers for Lithuania 2021
- Pandemic allowed him to recover for World Cup
- Player talks about that experience, as well as team preparations and goals
It was 6 February 2020, with Venezuela contesting the biggest game in their futsal history, when Alfredo de Jesus Vidal felt something was not right. Instinctively, he looked to the bench and signalled for a change.
After being seen by the team doctor on the sidelines, the player tried to briefly accelerate, “only to feel my knee go”. On the court, his Vinotinto team-mates continued to battle Chile as they sought to seal a maiden berth at the FIFA Futsal World Cup.
“I calmed down and tried to do my bit from the sidelines, still wanting to get back out there but knowing I couldn’t,” Vidal tells FIFA.com. “When the final whistle went, I forgot about the pain and the disappointment of everything I was going to miss and just began celebrating,” adds the 27-year-old winger, who contributed one goal during qualification.
That 3-2 win over Chile in their final group-stage game of the South American qualifiers not only put Venezuela into the tournament semi-final, but also secured a historic qualification for the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania. “The feeling was overwhelming – filling me and everyone who loves Venezuelan futsal with joy.”
The following day, however, the player’s worst fears were confirmed. “I’d ruptured my cruciate ligaments, and recovery would take six months. Although the World Cup was scheduled for September, it was going to be very tight,” says the man dubbed Chavela after a Mexican soap opera.
Vidal, who was on the verge of leaving his club in Peru to play in Argentina, home of the current world champions, could only watch as his side went down to Brazil in the semi-final and Paraguay in the match for third place. Despite that, the entire team was given a heroes’ welcome on their return to Venezuela, where Vidal underwent surgery on 14 February.
“I started my rehab in Caracas with the national team’s physio. ‘If you work hard, I guarantee you’ll make the World Cup,’ he told me, even if some had their doubts. In truth, the timeline seemed forced,” he explains.
“But I’m a person of faith and had God on my side: the pandemic appeared, something I’d never wish for, giving me the necessary time to return to full fitness.”
Recuperating back home
COVID forced Vidal to return to his native Guanare and to the neighbourhood where his love of futsal blossomed. “My dad was a professional in 11-a-side, but there was a very good futsal court near my house. From the age of five, I’d spend most the day there. My neighbourhood was really steeped in futsal.”
It was there, where everyone calls him Chavela, that he forged a reputation as a high-scoring winger, although it would not be until the age of 15 that he got his first break in futsal and definitively committed to the five-a-side variety.
“During a national tournament, the opportunity came to join a professional team in Caracas, one that also had a U-18 side. In the end it didn’t work out because I was the smallest, but everything was pointing me in the direction of futsal.”
His bourgeoning reputation as a goalscorer then paved the way for a move to Costa Rica – “something I wasn’t that keen on initially, being very attached to my family”. From there he made the move to Peruvian futsal, where he also scored freely. “Leaving home helped me as an athlete, but even more so as a person. I missed home a lot, but I used it as motivation to make my family happy.”
It was while back in Guanare that he heard that the 2020 World Cup was being pushed back to 2021. “Of course, I didn’t wish for a pandemic, but you have to find the positives in everything – in my case giving me the time to recover without any pressure and to be ready to represent my country.”
And it was at the same futsal arena where he had spent so long playing as a youth that he made his return in October 2020. “I did it without fear and didn’t hold back at all, and everyone agreed that I was back. There, in my backyard, I realised I was ready to compete again.”
The challenge ahead
Vidal has been with the national team since 2014, when current head coach Freddy Gonzalez brought him into the U-18 side that went on to form the nucleus of today’s senior team.
“Furthermore, most of us endured the frustration of not qualifying for the  World Cup in Colombia. What’s changed is that, despite being a young team, we’ve matured thanks to the experience of playing abroad. Three of us joined up from Peru, two from Italy, two from Uruguay, one from Argentina, one from Finland… The work we then put in as a squad took care of the rest.”
Chavela rejoined the national team in March this year prior to a tour of Costa Rica. “We won all three games against a team with considerable World Cup experience, so that was a positive takeaway. I got on well with the squad after my recall,” says Vidal, who scored a goal in the second friendly of the tour.
What areas do they need to improve on ahead of Lithuania? “We need better cohesion going forward. Defensively we were fine and only conceded one goal but, even though we scored six times, we still lack firepower up front.”
While World Cup qualification has already brought benefits, including the revival of the country’s once-powerful national league, Vidal insists the team need to aim high in Lithuania. “We don’t want to just make up the numbers, but rather to compete, and I believe we have a team capable of going far.
“The goal is to win five games in a row. It’s a tall order, but we have plenty of self-belief and conviction. We want to be worthy representatives of Venezuela and bring some joy to our people, who deserve it. However, we must also be ambitious and are working to ensure that’s the case.”