His presence on the substitute’s bench is a constant help to the less experienced players on Cuba’s national futsal team (a form of five-a-side indoor soccer), offering advice and encouragement during matches. 42 year old Wilfredo Carbó from Havana and goalkeeper for the Cuban national squad, still feels the desire to go out on the pitch and face off against the most feared center in the world.
“La Roca” (The rock) as he is known due to his spectacular saves, started playing soccer at 10 years old. Carbó has dedicated a lifetime to the world’s most popular sport, and gained recognition as one of the iconic figures of 21st century Cuban futsal.
Have you considered retiring at any point during your career?
No, I still haven’t thought about that. It’s that I still enjoy soccer. Everyone asks me when the time will come, I just say after this world cup cycle ends I’ll leave the Cuban squad, but I hope to keep competing in provincial and national tournaments with the Havana teams. I will definitively retire at some point, but I’m prepared for it, I’m not afraid of that moment. So yeah, I’m not planning on retiring when I lose my abilities, I want to do it when I’m still in good form.
Tell us about your first of three futsal World Cup appearances?
I started as a goalkeeper playing 11-a-side soccer until 2000, when I made thedefinitive switch to futsal. At the beginning I participated in futsal tournaments during the mid nineties in Havana. But in 2000 I went with the Cuban team to the Futsal World Cup in Guatemala, because one of the goalies selected didn’t end up participating in the competition.
The spot wasn’t waiting for me, not even from the first game, I had to earn it in training sessions. The two reserve goalies warned me about what to expect, that we were going to face none other than the 1996 world silver medal winning team, Spain (2000 Futsal World Cup champions). Although we lost 9-0 I played well against the Spaniards, they had over 50 shots on goal.
Which futsal players have most impressed you at an international level?
Only one, and that’s Brazilian “Falcao” (Alessandro Rosa Vieira). He’s the soccer player whose style of play has most impressed me. He’s a great person both on and off the pitch, a total gentleman. His individual technique is exceptional, he makes the difference on the team because he knows what needs to be done. When he has to pass the ball, he passes it; when he has to defend the goal area, he does so; when he has to score, he scores; and when he has to perform some kind of ingenious move, he does it. It’s the same whether he is on for 10 or three minutes, he’s always ready to play.
I stopped one of his shots, which he made facing away from the goal. The ball landed at his feet, and without turning around, he did a kind of back heel, but it wasn’t actually a back heel, I still don’t know how he was able to kick it so hard and from behind. He is out of this league, playing against him was a privilege.
How would you rate Cuban futsal at present?
We are at the vanguard in the Caribbean region given our accumulated experience in international matches over the years. We are strong contenders at a CONCACAF level. After Costa Rica and Guatemala, the two top teams in the region, we fall into the same category as Panama, Mexico, and the United States, against whom we are evenly matched. We continue to be in this range due to a disciplined squad, combined with the contribution of players such as Reinier Fiallo and Yhonnet Martínez, however we don’t rely on a single individual. We have a variety of players, what is more, there’s several players who aren’t on the Cuban team but have the potential to be – substituting an injured teammate or a player whose form isn’t up to scratch. As a group we work hard during training sessions.
Can Cuba qualify for the World Cup in Colombia?
Yes I think so, at least that’s our goal. It won’t be easy, but qualifying for the World Cup depends on us alone. The pre-world cup tournament in May in Costa Rica will be even, and could be the most balanced seen in recent years.
Will you have the opportunity to train and play in other countries before the pre-world cup in Costa Rica?
Nothing has been decided yet. We know that there’s a plan to go to Brazil and Peru.Trinidad and Tobago and Curazao have expressed interest in having us playing there. If we can arrange all these games, we will arrive in Costa Rica in better shape. Training and playing solely among ourselves over the coming three months won’t be that effective.
What are you thinking of doing after you leave the national team?
Besides continuing to play as a goalkeeper for Havana’s provincial teams, I’m thinking about managing first division 11-a-side squad Arroyo Naranjo (Havana municipality). I also hope to stay on as a goalkeeping coach for the national team. I don’t see myself doing anything outside of soccer, it’s my life.
If Cuba qualifies for the World Cup in Colombia how would you feel about being the oldest player in the tournament?
I’m not worried about those kinds of things, I’m ready for training. If we qualify I wouldn’t feel any differently. I like to stay true to the same objective that I’ve had since I was a kid, to win, to have time on the pitch. I’m more worried about taking on the responsibilities as captain of the national team than being the oldest player.