All around Bucaramanga’s Coliseo Bicentenario, there was disbelief. No-one could believe the game they had just seen – a pulsating 4-4 draw between Brazil and Iran, decided on penalties. No-one could believe it was the Brazilians going home. And above, no one could quite believe that this was the end of Falcao in Seleção yellow.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The script clearly read that there were at least another two hours of Falcao magic to come at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016. But Iran spectacularly ensured that this narrative went up in smoke amid the fiery passion of a night that will live long with everyone on the court.
While celebrations were wild for those in red, they were well aware of the significance of Ahmad Esmaeilpour’s converted spot-kick, following on from the departing Brazilian legend, who had moments before converted his own penalty. As one, the entire Iran team went to Falcao to say their own farewells and, in doing so, throw him into the air in celebration of a career that has left an indelible mark on futsal.
But, despite hitting three of Brazil’s four goals to sign off – showing has talents have far from deserted him, defeat always stings hard for a champion. “I remain very happy having finished my career with a hat-trick but unfortunately they are worth nothing,” he told FIFA.com as he walked to join his grief-stricken team-mates on the bus.
“These goals are of no real value; they are just helping me to improve my record. If I was able to change everything I did in this tournament, including the goals, and be able to trade it to become world champion, I would in an instant.”
That all-time scoring record, which he clinched in their final group game against Mozambique, has swelled to 48, accrued across a record 34 matches in a record fifth tournament. So, while a last moment of glory has not added a fairy tale sparkle to his legend, that legacy is immovable.
A man of the people
“Even with this result, I remain hugely proud because as I end my career I know I will be remembered as a very important player in the history of futsal,” he reflected, with eyes reddened having shed many a tear in the wake of his swansong. “I was world champion twice, while I am so honoured to see how the fans view me and what I have done, as this is what is most important to me.”
Having been asked countless questions, posed for photo after photo, and given every person who asked a moment of his time, it’s clear that he bows out as an icon of the people, a sentiment his coach reinforced. “Falcao has been huge, not only for the national team, but for the world,” Sergio told FIFA.com.
“His influence is massive but this is the end of his time with the national team, and he’s not going to the final, which is historic, as it is the first time ever we’ve not made it into the semi-finals.”
And the coach’s frustration was clear, having seen his team be pegged back by Iran on three occasions, before feeling the wrath of lady luck in the shootout. “It was our best game of the competition but we lost on penalties,” he said frankly. “We were unlucky to see Ari’s penalty hit the post, but we need to move on. That’s life.”
Falcao was matter-of-fact as he assessed his final game at a Futsal World Cup, as the path of retirement opened up ahead of him. “I knew the game was going to be tough. People back home in Brazil were saying before the tournament that both Brazil and Iran were among the favourites to win the tournament, but we met in the round of 16 instead and here we are, leaving Colombia on penalties.”
It was the most dramatic of twists to end a tale that futsal won’t soon forget.