A look back at a fine two days of Futsal from the weekend.
The FA Four Nations International Futsal Tournament
Thepoint4, The Royal College for the Blind, Hereford
3 April 2010: England 5-0 Malta, Turkey 3-2 Finland
4 April 2010: England 3 -4 Turkey (Final), Finland 3-0 Malta (3rd /4th Play-Off) Click here to watch video highlights of the Tournament
A last gasp winner by Turkey cruelly denied England a momentous victory to clinch their first-ever tournament win in The FA Four Nations International Futsal Tournament in Hereford. The England Futsal squad hosted Turkey, Finland and Malta over the Easter weekend in a Four Nations tournament that saw some exhilarating Futsal being played in front of large appreciative crowds.
England gave the home support something to cheer about with two outstanding displays that demonstrated significant improvement in this squad. Pete Sturgess’ men have been quietly but rapidly building up momentum over the past 18 months, promising to deliver not only improved performances but also results on the international stage. England, once condemned as the whipping boys of international Futsal, on the evidence of this tournament have turned the corner and are now a force to be taken seriously.
As recently as Christmas 2008, England were ranked a lowly 128th in the FIFA Futsal world rankings. Yet following a transitional period where Sturgess decided to cease playing international matches and to instead focus on extended squad development sessions for over six months of 2009, the England team have risen over 30 places to 95th in the rankings. Perhaps not as high as Sturgess and the England players wish or deserve to be, but this team definitely seem to be on the move – upwards!
Their results this Easter weekend helped to demonstrate this. Prior to Sturgess’ reign as England Head Coach, the squad had only achieved one victory in over five years of competitive international Futsal. Now England have a further three wins and two draws to add to this tally under Sturgess’ invigorating stewardship of this team.
England went into this Four Nations Tournament as joint underdogs with Malta. The Futsal world had limited expectations for England’s chances of success, but there was a quiet air of confidence and determination within the England camp. Following the opening game of the tournament, where Turkey surprisingly defeated Finland, the favourites, in an exciting 3-2 game, England faced Malta in front of a crowd of 350 spectators eager for England to deliver on their potential.
England started at a roaring pace and never looked back. Playing intricate, confident Futsal, the England players demonstrated superior skill and technique to dominate the first half. So much so that the England team could and should have been leading by a significant margin within the first five minutes with Matthew Mifsud, the Maltese keeper, having a busy evening. Ben Mortlock finally broke the deadlock after six minutes to give the England team the lead, which was rapidly followed by an excellently worked goal from Nick Colley two minutes later. This eased the tension within both the England squad and the home crowd, and quashed any Maltese hopes of a victory. This barnstorming start from England was not wasted, and the team continued to attack creating chance after chance. Tomas Obasi capped an excellent first half display by scoring in the 16th minute giving England an unassailable 3-0 lead going into half-time.
The second half saw more of the same. England played with a confidence and technical ability that had up to this point only been shown in rare glimpses during their short international Futsal history. The only negative point was England’s incredible profligacy in front of goal. In their previous game against Cyprus, England lost due to their wastefulness in front of goal, and again they demonstrated this trait that will surely undermine the team in future if they fail to improve in this area. England had over 50 shots at goal with 34 on target, adding a further two goals in the second half with Luke Ballinger and Rob Ursell taking the final scoreline to 5-0.
An incredible result for England; they had hoped to beat Malta but had not expected such a convincing total. This was the first time England had kept a clean-sheet in international Futsal and was also the biggest winning margin. Going into this game, England and Malta were similarly placed in the FIFA World Rankings, but England were vastly superior and the scoreline should have been in double-figures.
England progressed into The Final of the tournament to take on the impressive Turkey the following day. This would be a far more difficult challenge for the English, with the experienced and talented Turkey team ranked 30 places above England and overwhelming favourites leading into the game. Thoughts of an English victory prior to the game were verging on the ludicrous and pre-game discussions were more orientated around what the Turkish winning margin would be.
The form-guide and pre-match predictions looked ominous for England as Turkey settled into their rhythm and flow, effortlessly dominating the early exchanges. England fought bravely and created a couple of half-chances until Turkey slammed two goals past keeper James Dalton in quick succession in the eighth and ninth minute. England seemed lost and for the remainder of the first half could not find any response to impose themselves on the Turkish game. The Turks were cruising, playing a brand of Futsal that England had apparently no hope of matching. The inevitability of the result gloomily transferred to the 450 spectators who despondently watched their team, fearful of the impending carnage. England finished the half 2-0 down and many of the English supporters must have contemplated not returning for the second half.
The England players, frequently accused of not having the backbone or battling spirit required of any international team, let alone an English national team, were a transformed side at the start of the second half. Pride and passion were displayed by the English in abundance, and this was intertwined with skill and quality that not only shook the crowd into an electrifying noise but also had the Turks wondering if this was still the same English team they were playing.
Rob Ursell, who had hereto been shunned by the England coach, started the second half on a mission to prove Sturgess’ mistake in not playing him in the first period. Ursell danced around the Turkish players, showing much needed craft and imagination. Turkey simply didn’t know how to handle this extra dimension that Ursell offered, and were soon licking their wounds when Ursell scored a scintillating goal within 30 seconds of the restart. The crowd had suddenly re-found their interest in the game – perhaps England would go down fighting? Two minutes later they also re-found their voice when the inspirational England captain, Luke Ballinger, finished off an exquisite move to draw the game level at 2-2.
England were playing like a team scorned; there was a fury and determination about their play that Turkey simply could not handle. The only Turkish answer was to repeatedly foul the English dynamos that led to the dismissal of Aziz Saglam, one of the more creative influences in the Turkish team. Direct from the corresponding free-kick, Ballinger managed the unthinkable and gave England the lead. The crowd were in ecstasy: this was a comeback of mammoth proportions. England had managed a complete u-turn in the flow of the game with only four minutes of the second-half gone.
Turkey responded with dramatic effect. Raising their game and pressing England back into their half, wave after wave of Turkish attacks crashed down upon James Dalton’s goal. The English goalkeeper pulled off a multitude of impressive saves to keep England in the lead, but with three minutes remaining the inevitable and deserved equaliser came. Turkey passed the ball quickly, pulling the English defence out-of-shape offering Cicek the opportunity to shoot from distance. The Turkish defender had a cannon for a shot, and it flew into Dalton’s top corner.
Although disappointed, England managed to regain some control over the match, and whilst not looking likely of scoring they also did not look like they would concede. Both teams looked prepared for extra-time. In the last minute of the game, Ballinger took a kick-in deep in his half and knocked a difficult ball to Matt Aldred. Unable to direct his header, Aldred inadvertently placed the ball squarely into the path of Turkey’s most impressive player, Yildirim, to convincingly knock past Dalton to steal the match 4:3. The crowd were stunned, the England players were devastated, they had lost the game with only three seconds remaining on the clock. An awful way to lose any game let alone The Final.
On the whole, Turkey had probably deserved the victory, but only just. England should take great heart and pride in not only the way they fought but in the quality of their performance. There were periods in the second half when Turkey simply couldn’t live with the English players, and this should hopefully breed confidence and reassurance in the England camp that they are rapidly progressing. The future looks bright for English Futsal with plenty of promise on the horizon for this crop of young English players.