England's Futsal Coach reports back from the European Championships in Portugal.
Hi everyone. I’m writing this week from a not-so-sunny Porto, host city for the final round of the 2007 European Futsal Championships.
Having seen every game so far, it’s been a tournament with everything living up to my expectations. Some flare, tactical brilliance and fantastic goals from the best players in Europe, where set plays have been key for so many teams. Michel Platini was here on Friday for the opening games so there is some interest from the highest level within UEFA.
The brand new and impressive Gondomar Arena is quite fantastic. It’s a superb setting for Futsal, especially when the 4,000 seats are all but filled with a vociferous Portuguese crowd.
Rarely will a Futsal match end up 0-0 but my phone’s been rattling away with people asking me if there was a mistake, as the Championship opener between Portugal and Italy ended up as just that. A cat-and-mouse game of nervousness, tactical brilliance from coaches Duarte and Nuccorini as well as some very edgy play by both teams outlived what a 0-0 scoreline might at first portray. This game typified what Futsal is all about for individual player development aspects.
I shouldn’t have been too concerned as it was quickly followed by newcomers Romania hammering the Czech Republic 8-4 in a very open and exciting game, so on day one my fears were allayed where I had once more seen all facets of the game in two matches.
However, Romania weren’t so lucky in game two, where Italy totally overawed them and the Czech’s tournament was over by day two having been beaten by Portugal 5-3 after being 3-1 up in the first ten minutes. I have seen a lot of Romania in the last four years, yet for me this was the first time their players looked tentative, frightened and lacking cohesion which Italy exploited from the start of a 7-1 drubbing.
Their performance was so much in contrast to Serbia who took on world and reigning European champions Spain on Monday. Serbia are newcomers at this elite stage too and whilst lacking the technical prowess of their peers, they made up for it by treating them just like any other team. The 1-1 draw they ended up with is, by my reckoning, the only point Spain have dropped since the 2003 European Championship defeat to Italy so it can be done, it just takes self-belief.
I’ve seen all of the finalists play now and the styles vary dramatically as I know they will do from Spain to Russia, finesse to shear brute force, although both systems are effective in their own way. It’s still disturbing for me that so many Brazilian players are being naturalised by nations looking for a quick fix rather than developing the next generations of home talent, although you can be assured I’m not thinking of going down that route for England.
There are a few Brits out here watching, not as many as I would have expected, but the live Eurosport coverage makes the games easy to watch from home. For all of us, it’s very sobering seeing the abilities of the players on show and demonstrates just how far we have yet to go to get anywhere near parity, but we’ve started the journey and that’s the important bit.
Sharing time with the many other national team coaches and members of the UEFA Futsal family has been valuable. Thinking about ways in which the game can be improved to ensure it remains exciting, as the top teams get closer, has been just one topic occupying numerous conversations and we may see some changes in the next year or so.
If ever we needed a case to justify how important Futsal is to young player development, I also learned of Brazil’s plans to implement a programme in early 2008 which will teach one million school children each week with half an hour of Futsal, followed by half an hour of football. That programme will be funded by the CBFS, the Futsal division of the governing body and such is their financial stability they have just completed a two hall and 250 bed hotel Futsal specific complex at Fortaleza.
I also managed time yesterday to meet up with my old friend and mentor Roy Hodgson, who was in Porto with the Finland national football team, for whom he’s head coach and they have an important Euro 2008 group qualifier with Portugal this week. It was good to see him after such a long time and still enjoying life and his football, where he has transformed Finland to take them to the heady heights of qualification in group A so my fingers are crossed for him as it would be quite another remarkable success in his career.
Bizarrely, we reminded ourselves how coincidental it was that we first met in Porto in 1993, when he was in charge of the Swiss national team, prior to doing some work for him ahead of their USA ‘94 campaign.
Looking ahead to the weekend and my squad is now finalised for Georgia and we’ll join up at Heathrow on Sunday when we fly to Tbilisi in the evening. Although I’ve had some dropouts along the way, which is a frustration for continuity, we are sorted out.
There are four new caps once more as availability issues have changed the group from Bath, but these are opportunities for me to look at the new players we’ve identified and for them to show if they can step up.
I am pleased to hear that we have now secured funding for three regional Futsal leagues which are to be based geographically north, midlands and south. This replaces the original concept of a single national league and will be much better. The message going out though is for clubs to be exactly that, potential participating clubs need to have proper club structures to be considered rather than just groups of lads playing.
Although it’s Georgia next week we are already looking forward to hosting Greece in Birmingham at the Sport England funded facility in Nechells, Birmingham. I’ve been there only once before, but I think it will be a good venue to host the game and hopefully we can fill it but more about that next time.
Catch you in a couple of weeks.