The Futsal World Cup kicked off in Brazil. One would wonder what that has to do with European soccer. But, in fact, it has a lot to do.
The Futsal World Cup kicked off in Brazil. One would wonder what that has to do with European soccer. But, in fact, it has a lot to do.

The Old Continent will be the FIFA World’s zone most represented in the championship. Six European nations are participating in the tournament: Spain, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. South America is represented by Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. The CONCACAF sent Cuba, Guatemala and the United States. Asia took four teams, Africa two and Oceania has the Solomon Islands. Twenty nations are battling with host Brazil, the top favorite to finish Spain’s two-tournament reign. The Spaniards won the World Cup in Guatemala (2000) and China Taipei (2004).

We all know that any type of soccer is played in Brazil, having the beach and the streets of Rio de Janeiro as its biggest playgrounds. The big South American country produces players of all types, who succeed all over the World. But with its tight proximity, no continent has taken more advantage of Futsal than Europe. When the space is limited, everything is reduced even the soccer pitches and the amount of players per team.

In Spain, for example, the regular soccer, 11 on 11, is now played mainly on the club level, while most of the schools have switched to Futsal. It’s easier to play 5 on 5 on a team handball court than having a huge grass pitch.

Futsal has been a big promotional tool for conventional soccer. Despite participating in a sport that strategically is closer to basketball than to soccer, kids’ idols remain Messi, Fernando Torres or Iker Casillas.

“Conventional soccer just sells more than Futsal, and we are not as recognized by our colleagues who succeed at Real Madrid or Barça (although Barça also has a Futsal team)”, says Spain’s Futsal captain Javier Rodriguez, who plays for Barça on Spain’s top club league. “I believe our popularity has been increased since winning our first World Cup in 2000”.

Futsal’s Structure

People would be surprised of the huge structure that Futsal has in countries like Spain.
In Catalonia, the region whose capital is Barcelona, there are, only counting the men’s adult official leagues, five local divisions and four more for the teams that compete on a national level. The Catalan Futsal Federation includes a total of nine divisions in which more than 450 teams play with almost 7,000 players.

The development of Fustal in Spain is tied to its growing popularity, but also to the values the game has.

Rodriguez says: “Games are more intense (than conventional soccer) and you are not able to speculate. That is good for the fans. Futsal has some values that conventional soccer should adopt. We are just more humble. Having only five players on a Futsal court makes you work harder and do it in a humble way. If you act different, you wouldn’t last long in our game.”

Futsal is also an excellent tool for learning formation. Having only four players on the court plus the goalkeeper, each individual’s contribution becomes more important, and neither player is relegated to a minor roll.

“It is a game that has it all, because all players must defend and attack as well”, says coach of Santa Isabel School Jaume Bofill, who has taken his youth team to the Barcelona school championship game twice in the last four years, winning the tournament three years ago. “Futsal is exceptionally good for educating kids, because on the court each person has their own responsibility, and he needs to fulfil it for the outcome of the team. Having a clear roll in the game, helps a kid to recognize what you expect of him.”

A great tool to develop individual skills

If your son plays Futsal, but you want him to be a star in one of the World’s top 11 on 11 clubs, do not worry. In fact, he is following the right path.

Brazilian star Ronaldinho, who took his national team to World Cup victory in 2002, led Barcelona to the European title in 2006 and scored last Sunday the winning goal in Milan’s victory over Inter in the top Italian derby, started his career on a Futsal court, where he developed his excellent technique.

It is a simple concept: the lesser the space, the finer moves you must make and the purest ball control skills you must have. Futsal also helps you in putting a specific emphasis on defense, because you do not have many team-mates to bail you out. 

“On defense, you can not lose your concentration, because the score can change in the blink of an eye”, says Rodriguez.

The rules

Futsal can be defined as a combination of soccer and basketball. It also has some similarities with ice hockey.

Of course, it is played like soccer with the main objective being to kick or head the ball in the opponent’s goal. Like hockey, the number of substitutions is unlimited and you do not have to wait until the ball goes out to substitute. When a player comes in the court, you do not have to tell the referee. When a player is ejected, the punished team plays with one man down for two minutes or until the other squad scores a goal. The red-carded player is not allowed to come back in, but a team-mate will play in his place.

Fustal is similar to basketball in two areas. First, on offense, the players move on the court switching positions constantly until finding a hole on the defense. Second, and related to the rules, a team is allowed to call time outs in a game, the clock is stopped every time the ball goes out-of-bounds or when play is stopped. Finally, and probably the most important rule similar to basketball: each team can have only five fouls per half. Once a squad is sanctioned with a sixth foul, the opposing team goes to a line 10 meters away from the goal and takes a free kick with no wall, one-on-one against the goalkeeper.

Another aspect of Futsal similar to hockey that should be highlighted, although this one is tied to the strategy, happens when a game is about to end. When there are few minutes remaining, the team that is losing replaces its goalkeeper with a forward, trying to cut down the deficit or score the equalizer. It is a very risky move, and most of the times it works against the team, but it shows that Futsal coaches are willing to take chances.

The World Cup

Going back to the World Cup, Brazil is the big favorite to win it all. Its main opponents will be three European teams: current World Champion Spain, Italy, which gave Spain a tough time in the final game of the last European championship (2007 in Portugal), and Russia, which also performed very well at the tournament held in Portugal.

“We know it is going to be a very tough World Cup, because the top favorite is Brazil and they will be hosting it”, said Rodriguez. “But I have dreamed about Brazil and Spain playing in the great final (October 19)”.

Maybe because it is played a lot in Brazil’s streets or in Spain’s schools, but without a doubt, Futsal has gained a place in today’s World of Soccer. The World Cup that is being held during these days is  excellent proof of the popularity this form of soccer already has.