If you are unfamiliar with the game of futsal, think indoor soccer played at an extremely fast pace, forcing players to adapt creatively. It’s no wonder futsal has been dubbed, “one of the world’s most exciting sports to play and watch,” by Futsal.com, and why “futsal fever” has become a widely used term.
With the FIFA Futsal World Cup in Thailand underway until Nov. 18, teams from over 20 countries are playing hard in an effort to secure their nation the honor of World Champion.
Meet the teams of the Futsal World Cup.
FIFA, soccer’s governing body, describes Russia’s record at the Futsal World Cup as “decidedly mixed.” Yes, Russia believes it could shake the grip of Brazil and Spain on the contest, but the country’s record is patchy. Russia failed even to qualify for the 2004 Futsal World Cup in Taipei. Still, Russia has reached the semi-finals in all three of its most recent appearances at the competition. It helps that Russia has at least three players with roots in another soccer superpower, Brazil. Given the way that Russia crushed the Solomon Islands 16-0 and Guatemala 9-0, the going looks good for the rest of this year’s Cup.
One of the great things about the Futsal World Cup is that countries outside the mainstream soccer world have a chance to make a splash. Take Costa Rica, for example. Like Russia, Costa Rica has thrilled Futsal World Cup spectators. On Nov. 5, Edwin Cubillo scored three second-half goals, enabling his team to hurdle a two-goal deficit and beat Paraguay 6-3. The emphatic comeback put the Central America team back in the running to make the Cup’s second round. But the rising team’s global futsal career started poorly. At the 1992 edition in Hong Kong, the side’s fatal final goal difference was a wretched 9-29, including a 15-1 at the hands of mighty Brazil. Still, Costa Rica looked impressive at the recent Guatemala championship held by CONCACAF. The team notched up its second continental title after winning the contest for the first time 12 years before. Diego Solis’ side won 3-2 in the final against the host nation, with a huge helping hand from goalkeeper Jairo Jose Toruno.
Brazilians are famous for being naturally gifted at soccer, and the variety of it does not seem to matter. This World Cup, Brazil has swept aside Libya to become the first team through to the round of 16. No wonder Brazil — the reigning champion — is the hot favorite to win. With four titles to its name, the South American nation is the most successful team in FIFA Futsal World Cup history. Still, as FIFA underlines, Brazil had a tricky group phase qualifying campaign for Thailand 2012, ceding a shocking 3-5 loss to arch rival Argentina. One possible weakness of the Brazilian team is its reliance on the high-scoring but aging Falcao, now 35. Still, given his dazzling seven goals in the South American qualifiers, Falcao may well be as potent as ever in the Far East, FIFA reckons. FIFA adds that Brazil shone during the group stage of the South American qualifiers, winning all four of its matches by an aggregate score of 37-1.
Like Brazil, Spain is a nation blessed with natural soccer flair. They actually hold the distinction of being the only team to have broken Brazil’s grip on the trophy, winning at Guatemala 2000 and Chinese Taipei 2004. Four years ago, the two futsal giants met in the Rio de Janeiro final and Spain lost to the hosts in an electrifying penalty shoot-out. Still, FIFA trumpets Spain as a futsal “tour de force”. The six-time European champion has warmed up for this year’s Cup in style, winning all five of the qualifying games it played on the way to Thailand. In total, Spain notched up 32 goals, conceding none. Spain is one of just three sides including Brazil and Argentina to make all six editions of futsal’s flagship tournament. Even by its stellar standards, Spain is on form. Coach Venancio Lopez led the team to a fourth successive European title earlier this year.
Proudly playing on home turf, Thailand beat Costa Rica 3-1, stumbled during their match with the Ukraine and most recently stepped up again to defeat Paraguay 3:2. According to FIFA, Thailand’s status as an Asian futsal giant is “beyond dispute”. The Thais have finished third four times in the AFC Futsal Championship, reaching the final in 2008. Plus, the Thais have appeared in the last three FIFA Futsal World Cups. They just need to learn how to advance beyond the first round. Recently, FIFA says, a wealth of talented youngsters has entered the team, filling the void left by the loss of some stalwarts. We’ll see if these newbies help the team make history.
Cover Photo Credit: UnB Agencia