Kaunas finale excites local football stars and futsal community
Kaunas set to host semi-finals and final at Lithuania 2021
Former Champions League winner, ex-Bundesliga forward among local fans
City’s futsal community, including a Brazilian, eager for denouement
Although millions of fans the world over have been following the exciting knockout games at the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021™ on TV, the first major FIFA tournament to be held in Lithuania has also been a hit with the local football and futsal community.
Among those greatly enjoying the spectacle is a former UEFA Champions League winner, an ex-forward from the German Bundesliga, and a Brazilian who has lived in the Baltic country for years and has been trying to develop futsal there. FIFA.com spoke to them about their impressions on the tournament so far, the upcoming matches and the future of the game.
Famous Portugal fan
When you think of Jose Mourinho’s all-conquering Porto side from 2003 and 2004 – winners of the UEFA Cup and Champions League in successive years – the name Edgaras Jankauskas might be not be the first which springs to mind. That is not to say, however, that the striker did not make his mark during that era. It was he, for example, who won the free-kick at Manchester United that led to Costinha’s last-gasp equaliser and Mourinho’s famous touchline run as Porto advanced to the quarter-finals.
Now retired, Jankauskas has had time to enjoy watching Portugal play. He was in his hometown of Vilnius on Monday to see the Selecção das Quinas stage a brilliant comeback against Spain to reach the semi-finals. The fixture made a very good impression on the Lithuanian, who also counts Real Sociedad and Benfica among his former teams.
“We had the chance to see the creme-de-la-creme of futsal, the best players in the world. Though just a quarter-final, it could easily have been the semi or final. Unfortunately, one of the teams had to lose,” said Jankauskas, who took part in the tournament’s official draw ceremony. “I think Portugal now have a great chance of going all the way, with their side of the draw less complicated.”
Jankauskas added that he would be supporting Portugal for the rest of the tournament, where he has taken a keen interest in the game itself: “It’s a very dynamic game, and those of us who got to witness the quarter-finals in person were given a real treat. The ball control, movement, tricks – there was plenty for football players to admire and study, and things for kids to imitate too.”
Great first impressions
The final four World Cup matches will be held in Kaunas, home to another former Lithuania striker Valdas Ivanauskas, who had a spell in the 1990s with Hamburg where he remains a cult figure for some. Now coach of the Lithuania national football team, he also found time to enjoy the futsal – which was a new experience for him.
“I could not have been more impressed, especially with the RFU - Argentina quarter-final I went to. That was really outstanding. The quality, technical level and speed of the game really surprised me in a good way,” said Ivanauskas, who also saw the game not only as a spectator, but from a coaching perspective. “I think futsal could also be useful for young players, as a way of developing their skills at an early age. I played a slightly different indoor version of football as a player and it also helped me hone my skills.”
Ivanauskas said he was proud to have a FIFA final tournament in his hometown for the first time. “We have one of the best indoor arenas in Europe, and the organisation of the tournament has been really great. Moreover, we have a unique opportunity to watch the best players. Even if the pandemic has made it difficult for more fans to come, I hope that those who are able to attend will make the most of the last opportunities, because we have to enjoy every moment of this great spectacle. We’re proud to have such an event held here.”
Kaunas’ Brazilian community
The Futsal World Cup has not only attracted football stars, but also made the last few weeks especially enjoyable for the local futsal community.
Brazilian Guilherme Wendt Ferreira has been living in Kaunas for a decade, and for the last few years has been involved with Zalgiris Kaunas futsal team (formerly Vytis), the five-time Lithuanian champions and the ninth-ranked club in the recent UEFA Futsal Champions League draw. The club’s current standing is all the more remarkable when you consider that they have still to win their first trophy and were fully amateur until 2016, when Ferreira and a local businessman Darius Gurskis joined forces in this ambitious project.
So how does it feel to have the Futsal World Cup on your doorstep? “For me it’s like Disneyland for kids and something I’ll never forget. For the last month and especially now for the next few days, Kaunas feels like the futsal capital of the world. And it’s my town now,” beamed Ferreira.
His fellow Brazilian players and coaches at Zalgiris can now look forward to a wonderful occasion in their adopted city: the semi-final between Brazil and their fierce South American rivals Argentina – a fixture that transcends futsal and sport.
“Brazilians don’t like losing to Argentina, even in a game of rock, paper, scissors,” laughed Ferreira. “For some the match may be even more important than winning the World Cup itself! The rivalry is huge in every sport, but since Argentina became a force in futsal, it’s become very competitive in this discipline too.”
Rivalries aside, he hopes the World Cup further elevates the game of futsal in the country, something he has already noticed. “People I talk to who had never heard of futsal before now know all about it. I hope the rest of the futsal world were able to see the top-quality arenas there are here. The World Cup has put the country on the world futsal map,” said the Brazilian, adding that the tournament could boost the development of the game in Lithuania, where futsal-oriented academies have begun springing up in recent years.
“The kids can come to the matches and see the top stars of futsal up close. They can also see that some of the biggest football stars also started out in futsal. For me it‘s fantastic. I hope more people will also start bringing their kids to futsal academies,” he concluded.