Lithuania 2021 kicks off in Kaunas and Vilnius on Sunday
FIFA futsal instructors Graeme Dell and Miguel Rodrigo set the scene
They discuss the evolution of the game and what to look out for
With just hours to go before kick-off in the ninth edition of the FIFA Futsal World Cup™, its fever is already gripping Lithuania. The hosts have had to wait an additional year to get a close-up look at the sport, but the postponement necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has also whetted the appetites of FIFA futsal instructors Graeme Dell and Miguel Rodrigo. Both are now chomping at the bit to see how futsal has evolved and developed since Colombia 2016. Five years ago, Argentina emerged to break Brazil and Spain's stronghold on the discipline, the two teams having shared the seven previous titles between them. Can another new side snare the crown this time around? And what are the best ways to get the most out of this spectacular sport's pre-eminent tournament? Over to the experts… FIFA.com: Graeme, Miguel, what have been the most notable developments in this discipline since the Futsal World Cup was launched 32 years ago? Graeme Dell: That's what we hope to find out thanks to the work of the Technical Study Group during this World Cup. What interests me is the progress made in terms of technique since 2016. We're hoping to see the sport grow. In every four-year cycle, there's as much development among the players as there is among the coaches. It'll be interesting to note the new trends because the World Cup generally defines the direction that will be taken in the period after. We also have to see the current trends as a preparation for the next 20 years and make sure that we continue to evolve. Miguel Rodrigo: Above all, it's been the globalisation of knowledge. The internet and the profusion of YouTube channels has made it possible to develop video analysis and scouting, while making futsal visible to the whole world. Social media has allowed numerous countries where futsal didn't exist to discover this sport and its technical and tactical aspects. Secondly, a number of Spanish and Brazilian coaches have emigrated around the world. That's made it possible for the standard of leagues in continents like Asia to improve, while taking the local coaching culture up a notch. In addition, lots of players from Brazil, Portugal and Spain have moved to leagues in Asia and the Middle East. Lastly, there's been the huge amount of interest that FIFA has shown in this sport, with the staging of World Cups. People have discovered a sport that's very spectacular. And several players like Falcao, Ricardinho, Kike, Paulo Roberto, Daniel and Sergio Lozano have ensured that this sport has its own idols. That's very important.
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Only three teams have ever won a World Cup: Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Is futsal a closed shop for an elite few countries that have a strong local tradition, or has the playing field become more level? Graeme Dell: What we've seen in the most recent editions, and notably with Argentina winning their title, is that the new pretenders are ready to challenge the traditional powerhouses Brazil and Spain. One lesson from this World Cup will be to what extent the developing nations, those countries in the second tier, have improved over the last five years. We're hoping of course that new teams from around the planet can win world titles. But this will also be a chance to see the work that Spain and Brazil have done to stay at the top in spite of the progress made elsewhere. And now we have to add Argentina to that list. For the good of the game, though, this can't be a two or three-horse race. It's crucial to have more teams competing. Miguel Rodrigo: I took part in a World Cup with Thailand in 2016. Something changed then – it was a sign, and the title of champions has become more accessible. Because of all the factors we talked about earlier, that's made it possible for other countries to join the list of potential winners. Obviously I can't be sure, but I'd be willing to bet that Spain or Brazil won't be in the final of this World Cup. That would be a confirmation of what we saw in Colombia, that now there are six or seven teams who can lift the trophy, and that's the best thing that could happen in our sport.
How important are tactics in futsal, given that the possibilities seem limited with just five players on the court? Graeme Dell: The general perception is that there aren't a lot of possibilities, but there are! When you understand the game on a technical level, there are plenty of options available. The challenge for the coaches and their players is all about the situations where you have to understand the game and use strategies that call on specific technical qualities. One thing I've noticed in various competitions over the last few years is coaches who try to apply tactics which their players just aren't capable of. You can be more effective tactically if you have players with great technique. In some ways, the game can be limited by the bravery of coaches to try new things, but it can also be limited by the level of technique of the players. As an international federation, we need to provide all the support we can to improve the standard of technique of the players and the tactical understanding of coaches in every region around the world. Miguel Rodrigo: That would be the first thought of anyone who's only watched football or who knows very little about futsal. It's true that in football, with 11 players, there are various different alternatives, and there is a prevalence of improvisation in addition to tactical systems. Football players like to improvise more than they like to play in systems. Futsal, like basketball or handball, can appear less rich in terms of tactics, with just five pieces to move around the board. But what makes up for that, and what makes futsal rich in terms of tactics, is the difficulty of thinking very quickly. This game is very complex because you have to make decisions really fast and, above all, most importantly, with a huge element of risk. The goals are a lot closer to each other. One single mistake often leads to a goal. That's not true in football, where there is far more space to get back in position, drop back and correct a mistake.
Before this World Cup kicks off, what advice would you give to spectators watching futsal matches for the first time so that they can properly appreciate the sport? Graeme Dell: People watching futsal for the first time will probably be surprised and impressed by the speed of the game and the constant flow of attacks, counter-attacks and defence. But I'd also encourage them to observe the players who don't have the ball. The player in possession is the focus of attention and at the heart of the action, but we tend to overlook the impact of the other four players. Miguel Rodrigo: I would tell youngsters to observe the individual examples of technique. In very little space and with very little time, players need to solve problems: pass, shoot or dribble in a one on one. They should watch these great players so that they can apply that in their own sport, be it football or futsal. For any adults new to the game, they should look out for the speed they play at: the pace of the counter-attacks, one on ones and shots, and the creativity needed to get out of a problem or shake off pressure, plus the creativity required to finish in targets as difficult as futsal nets, with such good goalkeepers. They way the players are capable of shooting when the ball is near their ears, close to the top of their arms, beneath their legs etc. You have to be able to find a precise spot and act quickly.