Futsal squad qualify for Main Round of Euros for first time in history
Lithuania 3-4 England
England 2-1 Cyprus
UEFA Futsal European Championship 2013-14
Preliminary Qualifying Round
25-26 January 2013
Click here for results
By Simon Walker
England’s Futsal team made history in Lithuania this weekend after two classy performances saw them progress to the main round of a major tournament for the first time in the squad’s short history.
Two captivating games ended with mesmerising scenes for Pete Sturgess and his players as the squad celebrated on the pitch with unbridled joy after their landmark achievement.
England went to Lithuania as the lowest seeds in the group, although after a series of strong performances in Norway and Malta in recent weeks, Sturgess’ team went into the tournament in an upbeat and positive mood.
Playing the home nation first would pose a serious challenge, particularly with Lithuania ranked 22 places above England and a vocal partisan crowd of over 2000 local supporters creating an electric atmosphere.
But England set their stall out early, taking the game directly to Lithuania in dynamic style.
The passing and movement was sharp and crisp, and England’s incisive play unsettled the home team who looked like rabbits caught in headlights.
And it was not long before England’s excellent play carved open some decent opportunities. Some clever interplay between the bright Sam Murphy and William Wallace caught the Lithuanian defence napping with Murphy volleying into the top corner after only three minutes.
This perfect start was made even better three minutes later when Stuart Cook picked up the ball in a seemingly non-threatening position, only to waltz past the defender with some quick feet and slam past Labuckas in the Lithuanian goal.
It was an electrifying goal that even drew admiration from the local supporters.
Lithuania were on the ropes and England were playing with a hunger and quality that threatened to seal the game as a contest by half-time.
But this realisation appeared to spread through the England players who suddenly altered their style of play and drifted away from the passing game that had brought so much joy in preference of a more individualistic approach. Lithuanian began to wrestle control of the game away from England’s grips and minutes before half-time, Bezykornovas brought the score back to 2-1.
England emerged more focused and diligent about their play in the second half, and it wasn’t long before Luke Ballinger returned the two goal cushion after a good counter attack and lethal finish.
But again, Bezykornovas punished England from a close-range free kick to bring them back into contention.
Tension began creeping into the game, but Ballinger played the captain’s role again after finding himself on the end of a good Wallace through-ball to slide the ball home.
Surely England could hold on to this two goal advantage? But Steinas scored with four minutes remaining to make it 4-3 and Lithuania looked in the ascendency.
This wasn’t helped when Murphy received his second yellow card and was dismissed, which was shortly followed by Cook getting his marching orders after a mix up on the touchline as to when he could re-enter play.
It looked like England were pressing the self-destruct button and for the remaining two minutes the Lithuanians power-played with their goalkeeper joining in with the attacks, resulting in five outfield players against three English. England showed resolve and managed to hold on to claim a memorable 4-3 victory.
England again looked cagey at the start of the second match against Cyprus, who posed different challenges to the home nation and England struggled to exert control over the game.
But the better chances in the first half fell to England as they counter attacked, and William Wallace broke the deadlock after 18 minutes with a deft little chip over the last defender to create space for Jason Kilbride, who returned the favour with an inch-perfect delivery to the back post for Wallace to score his second goal for England.
Wallace demonstrated why he is a professional Futsal player in Spain, with a masterclass performance that continually calmed and settled his team-mates whilst continuing to probe the Cypriot defence.
And a minute before half-time, Wallace scored the best goal of the tournament to give England a further advantage. Picking the ball up deep in his own half, Wallace began a mazy solo run, weaving past three players before slotting past the ‘keeper from an acute angle.
England refused to learn their lessons from the night before in terms of holding their two-goal lead, and within two minutes of the second half Costantinos finished expertly for Cyprus after the English defence went wandering.
However, England showed real determination and character as the second half wore on to withstand the Cypriot pressure, with two particularly strong defensive performances from Will Rooke and Ian Parkes. England finished the stronger team and deserved the 2-1 victory.
Jubilant scenes followed, as the England squad realised their four year ambition of qualifying to the Main Round of a major tournament.
England now head to Turkey at the end of March for the next stage where they will play Ukraine, Slovenia and the hosts.
But in a twist of fate, England will face Turkey in two pre-arranged friendly matches in Barking, London on the 8 and 9 February, before taking on Wales at home on the 17 March.