Way in advance of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012, which will be held between 1 and 18 November in Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima, the first records have tumbled en route to the global showdown, as more nations than ever before went in search of a place at the tournament.
“The fact that 115 of FIFA’s 208 member associations have attempted to qualify for the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2012 goes to show how popular the indoor format has become all over the world," commented Jaime Yarza, Senior Manager of Futsal and Beach Soccer Competitions at FIFA. "This is a new record, but it's not a surprise, because the FIFA Development Division has invested a great deal of work in Futsal over the last few years."
New faces from four confederations
Sixteen teams from four confederations entered qualifying for the FIFA Futsal World Cup for the first time this year. Asian confederation hopefuls Bahrain, Mongolia, Myanmar, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Syria are already out of the running, but the United Arab Emirates still hold their fate in their own hands at the AFC Futsal Championship from 25 May until 1 June.
Norway sprang a surprise by reaching the final play-offs in Europe, but they now meet Italy, who go into the clash with the Scandinavians as runaway favourites. Indeed, the first leg in Storjdals ended 5-0 to the Italians. Switzerland and San Marino, for their part, failed to seal play-off berths.
In the CONCACAF competition, newcomers St Kitts and Nevis benefited from the withdrawal of a clutch of nations and retain every chance of claiming a berth at the world finals. Eight teams from the Confederation now meet in Guatemala from 2-8 July, where four places in Thailand are up for grabs.
There could also be one or two debutants from Africa when the showdown gets underway in November. Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan are among the hopefuls when the CAF nations set out on the first round of qualifying between 6 and 8 April.
Yarza feels there are obvious reasons for the worldwide boom in the indoor variant of the sport. “Some 57 percent of member associations stage regular futsal tournaments for men," the official told FIFA.com. "Half of all member associations now possess a futsal section or a futsal committee. On top of that, FIFA staged 35 coaching and refereeing courses around the world last year to promote and develop futsal."
Continuity paying dividends
Recent developments in FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifying underline Yarza's argument. Back in 1992, just 23 nations entered the qualifying competition, but that figure has increased steadily ever since. It was 49 nations in 1996, and 64 in the year 2000. Four years later, 86 FIFA member associations entered qualifying, with the figure rising to 98 when the finals were staged in Brazil four years ago.
On the other hand, continuity is also paying off. Eighteen nations have entered every FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifying tournament to date, including Brazil and Spain, the only winners of the trophy so far. And the two nations have undoubtedly benefited at the senior international level from the experience and lessons learned in Futsal, as Yarza commented.
“A number of Spanish FIFA World Cup winning stars, and Brazilian legends including Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Juninho, played futsal as youths. Many countries are coming to realise just how important futsal can be in honing young players’ technical skills."