Surprisingly, Korean television has just shown the FIFA Futsal World Cup Final. I say surprisingly because until a few months ago I was unaware that there even was a Futsal World Cup. Back then, in those dark days before I knew of this wonderful tournament, I was looking at spend two somewhat Barren weeks in Bangkok. On a previous visit, I had got drunk on the Khao San Road and visited the more famous wats and palaces, and while I was sure I’d do those things again, I was looking for something new for my extended stay in the Thai capital.
Of course, I was really going there to spend time with my wife, but much of her time would be taken up working and studying. A search of events in Bangkok for October/November 2012 led me to the FIFA Futsal 2012 World Cup, and my eyes lit up. I went ahead and booked tickets for four evening double-headers.
Thing got off to a bad start when, about a week before leaving for Thailand, I received an email from the ticketing agency to say that the Bangkok Futsal Arena- the venue for three of the four matches I’d bought tickets for and, more importantly, the tournament’s final- would not be ready for the opening match. My ticket was valid for the new venue, but this was not encouraging. The Bangkok Futsal Arena was not finished in time to host any of the knockout matches or, indeed, the final.
The futsal went ahead regardless. I knew a little of the game having played (well, struggled) with locals in Spain and seen it on TV while living there. I’d also been playing once a week recently at the French Lycee in Seoul. Futsal, for the uninitiated, is 5-a-side football, but not like the 5-a-side that has usually been played in Britain. Firstly, the ball is smaller and heavier than those indoor, oversized tennis balls found in sports centres across the UK. Likewise the goals are narrow and high, unlike the low wide ones familiar to most Brits. Over the week that I attended the tournament, I also had to learn new rules and new vocabulary, such as Accumulated Fouls and Second Penalty Kicks.
The presence of futsal is likely to grow as football associations across the globe try to follow the current Spanish model of possession football. Indeed, this year saw the creation for the first time of a Welsh National Futsal team. The squad played their first ever matches in September losing 2-1 twice to Andorra, and on December 4th will be part of the preliminary draw for the 2014 UEFA Futsal EURO 2014.
Thailand is the seventh edition of the FIFA Futsal World Cup. Only 2012 finalists Brazil and Spain have ever lifted the trophy; Brazil’s triumph in Bangkok is their fifth with Spain taking the other two. I made it to eight games in total and here is a brief round-up of what I saw.
Match Day 1 – Group A
Paraguay 3 – 3 Ukraine
Thailand 3 – 1 Costa Rica
Looking back over past Futsal World Cups, even the most recent one had regularly produced scorelines such as 5-4, 7-2, and even a 31-2. So, I was surprised I had to wait more than ten minutes for the tournament’s opening goal. Paraguay’s Emmanuel Ayala, who was to have a busy night, scored it, capitalising on a misplaced Ukranian pass and hitting a hard left-footed shot passed the goalkeeper. Ukraine scored a neat team goal a minute later, as the finally game became the kind of end-to-end contest I’d been expecting.
In the second half, Ayala scored again, then Paraguay missed a penalty. Ukraine equalised with a penalty of their own, before Ayala scored the contest’s third spot kick to complete his hat-trick. With less than two minutes to play, Ayala collected a second yellow card for diving and was expelled from the game, temporarily reducing his side to four. With under a minute to play, Ukraine scored to tie the game 3-3.
Between the opening night’s two matches, there was a brief, but fun Opening Ceremony and the Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of controversial former PM and one-time Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra, officially opened the tournament.
The crowd was much larger for the evening’s second match with locals coming to cheer on the hosts. The noisy, partisan crowd were to end the evening happy. Thailand dominated Costa Rica and had the evening’s star performer in Suphawut Thueanklang. He cleverly set up the Thais’ opener then scored the second from a tight angle. Thailand’s excitable goalkeeper, who celebrated every block, save, or tackle like a goal, left the field injured, and his replacement’s first task was to pick out David Luiz-lookalike Diego Zuniga’s strike from the net. Thailand killed the game off, though, Suphawut playing a superb through ball that was finished off for 3-1.
Match Day 1 – Group B
Morocco 3 – 8 Panama
Spain 2 – 2 Iran
That Spain are a futsal powerhouse is well-known. That Iran could also be placed in the heavyweight bracket, perhaps, is not. Iran have dominated Asian futsal, winning ten of twelve Asian Futsal Championships, although lost out out this year to Japan.
The Spain-Iran game was high in quality and it was very noticeable that the players on-show were professional, which many of the players I’d seen so far were not. Spain opened the scoring with a powerful left foot shot from Miguelin, and then, in a very atypical way to what we’ve come to expect from Spanish teams, allowed the Iranians possession. However, it was Spain again who scored for a 2-0 lead at the break.
Iran had a lot of very vocal support around the Huamark Indoor Stadium and improved in the second half. For most of the period they were probably the better team and scored two goals in quick succession midway through the half. Iran should probably even have won the game when in the final minute, Ali Hassanzadeh rounded the keeper, but saw his chip go over the bar.
Earlier in the evening, Panama had produced one of the most entertaining displays in my visit to the FIFA Futsal World Cup. Morocco had raced into a 3-0 lead, but Panama began their comeback in the final minute of the first half to end the half 3-1 down. In the second half, the game was just wave after wave of Panamanian attacks as the Moroccans capitulated. The Panama players got to show off the most practised of their tricks and goal celebrations as they went on to win the game 8-3.
Match Day 2 – Group D
Mexico 1 – 3 Australia
Italy 3 – 2 Argentina
Australians are known for a love of travel and a love of sport, so it wasn’t surprising to see a large green and gold contingent at Nimibutr Stadium. With megaphones, banners, and fancy dress, the Australians were certainly the most humourous supporters I saw at the Futsal World Cup. Their team weren’t bad, either. The Futsalaroos (yes, really) had won only
twice in 15 attempts at the Futsal World Cup and had began this tournament with a 9-1 defeat to Italy. Here, though, they came from behind to a Quiroz free-kick to beat an inexperienced Mexico side (their squad contained several players who had made their name in beach football) 3-1. Tobias Seeto was the star scoring the equaliser then, just seconds later, seeing a chip come back off the bar into the path of Aaron Cimitile following up. The Aussie captain Giovenali sealed the win with a well taken third.
Ranked third and seventh in the world respectively, Italy versus Argentina was one the of the biggest match-ups of the group stage and certainly the one I was looking forward to most of my outings. A glance through the Italian teamsheet indicated that several of these players were probably of Brazilian descent, and further research confirmed this. Among those was Saad Assis, who plays his club futsal with Barcelona, and was probably the outstanding individual in the matches I saw.
He scored the goal that sealed the win for Italy, powering his sides’ third passed the impressive Argentine keeper with three minutes remaining. In a cagey, high-quality affair, Argentina took the lead on two minutes, but Italy came back to end the half 2-1 ahead. The second half was goalless until the final three minutes when Assis scored, then Argentina scored with the very last kick of the game.
Match Day 3 – Groups A & C
Japan 4 – 2 Libya
Thailand 2 – 3 Paraguay
After skipping a visit to the Indoor Stadium Huamark in favour of a trip to the Thai FA Cup, I returned to the arena for the final round of matches in groups A and C to see one man: Kazuyoshi Miura. King Kazu was the star of Japanese football in the early- and mid-nineties. He had never played in a FIFA World Cup, having been excluded from the 1998 World Cup squad, but at the age of 45 and still playing professional football, King Kazu got the call to join the Asian Champions’ squad for Thailand.
Japan had been hammered by Brazil, but had drawn with Portugal meaning a win would almost certainly put them through. Libya, who have featured here and at the this year’s African Nations Cup, despite all the troubles their country had faced in 2012, needed a huge win to have any hope of qualifying after two heavy defeats.
Japan controlled almost the whole first twenty minutes, but the half ended 1-1. Cheered on by a large and loud following, the Japanese were able to make their domination count in the second half, going into a 4-1 lead, before Libya scored a late penalty.
The decibels rose even louder for the hosts’ match with Paraguay. Thailand needed a draw to progess, but, just as had happened in their last game against Ukraine, some poor defending saw them fall 3-0 behind with the returning Emmanuel Ayala again among the scorers.
Thailand rallied and pulled back two goals, star of the opening night Suphawat again finding the net, but couldn’t find the equaliser.
I don’t know anywhere near enough to say if this was a good or bad tournament, or to compare to past World Cups. As a first time viewer, I found it very exciting. The only low was probably not seeing champions Brazil in the flesh.
I was expecting the quick movement of the ball, but was surprised by just how much off-the-ball movement that requires given such a small playing area. As well as the goals, flicks, and those brilliant moments when the losing side withdraws their goalkeeper for an extra body outfield, the game seemed to be very tactical. It’s probably no coincidence that of the two most successful futsal nations, one has traditionally been proponent of the beautiful game, while the other is currently regarded as the benchmark that everyone else is trying to match.
It’s for this reason that we are likely to hear more and more of futsal. As I mentioned above, Wales are one of the latest countries to join the futsal world, and I really recommend going along to check it out if they are playing near you. Lost Boyos will definitely be following their progress and saving up our Euros for Belgium 2014. Just in case.