Manchester FC and Reading FC secure their first ever titles.
Manchester Futsal Club defied the odds to claim their first major trophy in this weekend’s exciting FA Futsal Cup National Finals in Birmingham. They achieved the unthinkable by breaking the recent stranglehold of Helvecia over English Futsal, in what was an action packed three days of Futsal as the northern club stormed to their momentous victory in this prestigious cup competition. In the women’s section of The FA Futsal Cup, Reading Futsal Club avenged their defeat in last year’s Final by deservedly picking up the silverware after a breathtaking final.
With over 560 teams entering this season’s FA Futsal Cup, the National Finals was the most competitive it has ever been. The quality of Futsal played by all 32 teams that had worked hard to reach the Birmingham finals is a great testament to how Futsal is rapidly progressing in England, both in the male and female game. In the male section of the competition the huge favourites to retain their crown was Helvecia Futsal Club, who earlier in June once again won The FA National Futsal Leagues and wanted to add to their tally of three years of consecutive league and cup doubles. But the outstanding performances of Sheffield and Manchester during the League Grand Finals suggested that they could be a force to be reckoned with.
In the early group stages it was difficult to judge the form teams; Helvecia the consummate competition team were lethargic in their opening group games, showing occasional glimpses of brilliance that other teams in the competition could only aspire to, but on the whole failed to click into any rhythm. But for those experienced at watching Helvecia in tournament play pay little regard to their group game performance, with the London club regularly doing just enough to win games rather than exerting themselves overly, and this was demonstrated by them topping group C.
In Group A, Sheffield looked in good form with their slick passing movements overcoming both Team Bath and Enfield with relative ease, before moving into top gear to overcome this year’s surprise package of Passslona with a masterful display. Team United Birmingham overcame their disappointment at the National League Grand Finals to comfortably top Group B, whilst in Group D Manchester had several close matches and looked some distance from top form as they topped the group ahead of Baltic on goal difference.
In the Quarter Finals, Sheffield who had looked in excellent form had a tough encounter with FC Baltic. Sheffield failed to pass the ball as fluidly as they had demonstrated in their previous games, and weren’t as dynamic in their movement; this wasn’t helped by the early injury to their England international Ben Mortlock. FC Baltic maintained a strong defence and invited Sheffield on to them, catching the northern club with lightning counter attacks. Sheffield lacked imagination in the final third of the pitch and this cost them as they eventually lost 1-0, much to their bitter disappointment.
Team United Birmingham against Leeds Futsal Club had far more goalmouth incident, with Leeds running out 5-3 winners after almost squandering a 3-0 lead at half-time. A brave second half performance from Team United in front of their home supporters made the end of the match tense and exciting, but their slow start in the first period cost them heavily. A tale of two halves was also the same story in the third Quarter Final as Kickers outplayed Helvecia in the first half and were unlucky for the scoreline to be 1-1 at the interval. But Helvecia’s lacklustre performance in the early part of the game was replaced in the second half by a breathtaking display of power and technique that blew Kickers out of the game; Helvecia reached top-gear to win 7-1 and to send an impressive and fearsome message to all of their rivals.
In the last of the Quarter Finals, Manchester had an early scare with Passlona taking the lead. This Oxford based club who will be in The FA National Futsal Leagues second division next season played some excellent Futsal throughout the tournament, but were undone by Manchester Futsal Club’s better organisation and movement, as they were beaten 2-1.
The first of the Semi-Finals on Sunday pitched Helvecia against Manchester. A tough draw for the northern club, who were making their first ever appearance in The FA Futsal Cup semi-finals, and who undoubtedly would have preferred to meet the London club in the Final. But Manchester came into the game with an effective game-plan, keeping a strong-well organised defensive shape that even Helvecia’s inventive play struggled to find a way through. Manchester pressed and harried the Helvecia players, giving them little time to initiate their passing movements and causing the London club into many unforced (and uncharacteristic) errors. The northern club’s hardwork and high octane performance paid off in the second half as Ilya Ovechkin gave them an unexpected lead. Helvecia sensing danger piled on the pressure, but it was all too late as Manchester kept their discipline and held on to their 1-0 lead to dump Helvecia out of the competition and to give them a chance at glory in The Final.
The other semi-final was perhaps less tactical, but far more action-packed as FC Baltic took on Leeds Futsal Club. Leeds, making their return to the National Finals of The FA Futsal Cup for the first time in over five years, had surprised many teams with the quality of their play. Their sharp passing and movement combined with their physicality and intensity made them fearsome opponents, and De Souza’s finish just before half-time gave them an important 1-0 lead at the interval. But the second half did not start well for the Yorkshire club as Kurtovic picked up his second yellow card and was sent off. This left a nasty acrimonious atmosphere to Leeds’ play who felt somewhat hard-done-by, and added even more edge to the remainder of this encounter.
FC Baltic are not a team to be bullied and relish a physical battle, and so Leeds’ additional bite to their game actually played into the hands of the London club. Baltic maintained their discipline and continued to play some excellent Futsal and if it wasn’t for James Dalton, the England goalkeeper, having an incredible match for Leeds they would surely have gone on to win the game comfortably. But Dalton kept FC Baltic at bay until the very last minute when Jarmalauskas snatched an equaliser to take the game into extra-time. Whilst Baltic continued to press for the winner in extra-time, Leeds bizarrely appeared to settle for penalties, which ultimately was how the game was to be settled. Neither Filonov (the Baltic goalkeeper) or Dalton got close to the penalties taken expertly by either team, until De Souza stepped up for Leeds only to see Filonov guess the right way and make a good save. But the excitement wasn’t finished, with the referee judging that Filonov had moved off his line too soon and ordering De Souza to retake his spot-kick. De Souza who had been excellent throughout the competition for Leeds appeared hesitant as he prepared to re-take the penalty, and much to his disappointment he blasted his spot-kick onto the bar. FC Baltic went through to the final, winning 5-4 on penalties.
At the start of the tournament, few people would have guessed that FC Baltic would play Manchester Futsal Club for the honour of being crowned FA Futsal Cup winners; but this demonstrates how the top teams in the country have worked hard to close the gap on Helvecia and to make English Futsal more competitive. Neither team had appeared in The Final of this competition before, which added further excitement to the large crowd that were in attendance.
In the tunnel on the walk out to the match, FC Baltic took the opportunity to exchange a few choice words with their northern counter-parts. This proved to be an unwise move, as the Manchester players failed to take the bait deciding to save their response until they got on the pitch. And what a response. The northern club started like a hurricane, playing with speed and precision as they launched attack after attack on the surprised Baltic defence. Stuart Cook and Doug Reed were in untouchable form, combined with the continual excellence of captain Ovechkin, they guided Manchester to a 2-0 lead within the first five minutes. FC Baltic were shell-shocked as they tried to react to this blistering start by Manchester and to gain a footing in the game; but if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Filonov in goal, who made two world-class saves, Baltic would have been looking at an even higher scoreline.
In the second half, Baltic began to enjoy a greater share of possession but still struggled to breakdown the well-disciplined Manchester defence. Nevertheless, Godelis managed to finish an excellent counter-attacking move by Baltic with an outstanding finish to bring them back into the game at 2-1. Manchester looked like they might rock, but again Cook and Reed settled their team using their England experience to reassert their authority on the match. Three minutes later Reed scored the goal of the match to effectively seal the game; with his back to goal in a wide position he turned and created some space before hammering the ball into the top corner with an emphatic finish. Baltic were stunned and knew they were beaten, the final score ended 5-2 with the Manchester players going into rapture as the magnitude of their victory dawned on them. As well as winning The Cup, the northern club also picked up additional accolades with Doug Reed picking up Player of the Tournament and Daniel Haralambous receiving the Golden Boot. A great day for Manchester Futsal Club!
The Women’s section of The FA Futsal Cup saw huge advancements on the quality of Futsal being played compared to previous years, which is an extremely encouraging sign for the development of the women’s game. Team Bath Ladies, the defending champions, topped Group A with some strong performances but missed some of the sparkle that they had on their way to victory last year. In Group B, Team United Birmingham and Reading Futsal Club were evenly matched and looked like they would prove difficult to beat in the knock-out rounds. City United Ladies topped Group C with some outstanding performances, but there were doubts that their small playing squad would allow them to maintain their high level of performances.
In the Quarter Finals, the pick of the matches saw a talented Cardiff City take on Team Bath. Cardiff played some excellent Futsal but struggled to finish off some of their clever moves, and were punished by Team Bath who were clinical in front of goal, winning 2-1. Team United Birmingham held off a strong challenge from Hereford Futsal Club, who threatened to beat one of the favourites. But Hereford ran out of steam in the second half, and allowed the quality of Team United to shine through to win the game 3-1. City United Ladies continued to impress with a comfortable 5-2 victory over Westside, and similarly Reading cruised past the Midland Mix into the Semi-Finals.
Team United Birmingham versus Team Bath looked a mouth-watering prospect, and it was a close encounter with the game ebbing and flowing between the two teams. But Team United’s superior fire power proved the difference with Gemma Clarke and Leigh Dugmore sealing a 2-0 victory for the Birmingham side. In the other Semi-Final it similarly promised to be a close affair, with City United playing some outstanding Futsal on the way to the semis, whilst Reading looked an uncompromising and technically strong unit. But City United had been hit by several injuries, which depleted their already small squad, and although they managed to be only 1-0 down at half-time, the lack of available substitutes really hurt them in the second half. The lethal Melissa Fletcher and Nikki Watts who grabbed a hat-trick, ensured that Reading convincingly won 7-0 to send them through to The Final.
Team United had already played and beaten Reading in the group stages of the competition, and so the Reading players had scores to settle. Reading dominated the early phase of the game, creating a number of decent chances before finally an opportunity fell to the tournament’s leading goalscorer, Nikki Watts, who dispatched her shot with ease to give Reading a well-deserved 1-0 lead. But Team United began their fightback, much to the delight of the home supporters, as they started to compete for possession and make better use of the ball. Gemma Clarke just before half-time levelled the scores to set-up an exciting second half.
However, Nikki Watts again proved why she was the Player of the Tournament, with an exquisite goal immediately after the interval to make it 2-1 and give Reading a valuable lead. Reading then began to move through the gears as they sensed Team United were struggling to pick themselves up. Quick goals from Rebekah Haines and two from Stacey Wiggins ended the match as a contest, but to Team United’s credit they continued to fight to the end with two consolation goals from Jemma Conor-Iommi adding respectability to the scoreline at 5-3. After being beaten in last year’s final, the Reading players were jubilant in their celebrations.Click here for the final tables and results.