José Venancio was given quite a task a couple of months back. Javier Lozano had just resigned as Spain coach on the eve of the UEFA Futsal Championship, and Venancio stepped up to lead the holders in the defence of their title, succeeding a man who in 15 years made his nation the prime force in the world game.
Venancio did not lack in experience. The 43-year-old was, and remains, coach of top-flight club Autos Lobelle de Santiago FS, having previously been part of the Spain technical staff, led the Guatemala national side and masterminded Caja Segovia's domestic treble in 1998/99 and subsequent unofficial European title. But he knows that stepping into the shadow of his friend Lozano presents a special kind of challenge as he prepared to start their finals campaign in Porto on Saturday having won their last friendly last weekend 5-0 against a Castro Urdiales XI.
"I am the coach of the winners of the last two [FIFA Futsal] World Cups," Venancio told uefa.com. "Not only do I have responsibility for the national team, but also for representing Spanish futsal. We're talking about the best league in the world and we have to prove that at the European Championship. Everyone will be watching Spain closely and that's a lot of responsibility."
His dual role means extra pressure, but Venancio is delighted to have the chance. "The truth is that they approached me once Lozano had left but I was under contract at Lobelle and that wasn't what they had in mind," he said. "However, I managed to sort it out with the club and the president. It wasn't something I was thinking about, things just happened that way and logically. Everyone wants to be involved with their national team and for me it's an honour, I'm very proud. I have to thank Javier Lozano because he entrusted me with this. I am his student and he is my teacher, I have learned a lot from him and I have been lucky in the sense that sometimes teachers make the students pull through."
Keeping faith with the team that Lozano built on the principle that "we should not change something that works", Vevancio has a tough group to negotiate, opening against two-time runners-up Ukraine, then playing Serbia before a rematch of the 2005 final with Russia. And any semi-final would not be easy with 2003 champions Italy and hosts Portugal among the potential opponents. "We are going to try to win but we know that there are other countries in the running for the title," Venancio said. "We have to respect them all and count on them because this sport has grown so much in Europe and all national teams are of the highest level. Russia, Italy and Portugal are, in my opinion, favourites for the title as well as Spain."
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