England’s Futsal team triumphed in Israel last week to become the first ever Three Lions side to make it through to the FIFA Futsal World Cup Main Round.
Peter Sturgess’s squad have continued to raise the bar and set new standards for the development of the game in England over recent years, and this World Cup campaign has been no different.
And to top this success, England did it with a 100 per cent record during this qualifying round by beating Wales, Denmark and the host nation in Tel Aviv.
FIFA Futsal World Cup
First Qualifying Round
22-25 October 2015
Tel Aviv, Israel
By Simon Walker
It was a challenging task too, as all four nations fancied their chances of topping the group and gaining the one automatic qualification spot to reach the Main Round.
England faced a tough opening game against Wales, who took an early lead before captain Ian Parkes restored parity mid-way through the first half, only for Wales’ Rico Zulkarnain to restore their lead a couple of minutes before half time.
But Agon Rexha, Richard Ward and Stuart Cook scored after the break to make it 4-2 to England.
Denmark were next in line for the Lions, and they had impressed with a convincing win against Israel in their first game so started the game with a confidence and swagger to their play that suggested that they were unconvinced with England’s opening performance against Wales. But this was a serious misjudgement from the Danes.
The English big-hitters who had struggled to get into the game against Wales roared into life from the outset and ripped into Denmark.
Cook was unplayable; after only 12 seconds he rounded a defender and slotted past the keeper with an exquisite finish to give England a perfect start.
Raoni Medina, Rexha, Doug Reed and Cook were playing with an intensity and pace that left the Danes in complete disarray.
Cook scored a phenomenal second goal after beating three defenders and the goalkeeper with breathtaking skill and composure to extend England’s lead after six minutes and then played a key role in a third goal, which resulted in Jim Jensen conceding an own-goal after only 11 minutes.
Denmark simply could not live with England’s passing and movement so resorted to the only approach they had left to limit further damage: the fly-goalkeeper.
This tactic broke up England’s dominance and reduced their possession, and slowly restored some calm into the Danish play as Falck was able to make it 3-1 after a well-worked move.
After the break, the impressive Medina extended England’s lead, but Falck quickly scored two identical goals to suddenly bring the Danes back into contention at 4-3.
But England went up a gear to instantly respond through Ward, and although the Danes struck back via a Rexha own-goal to ensure a tense final few moments, the Lions ended up as 5-4 winners.
The Danish walked disconsolate from the pitch, and although the English were satisfied, it was not until they returned to their hotel that they realised what the Danes already knew: due to Israel’s earlier defeat to Wales, England had won the group and succeeded in qualifying to the Main Round.
England’s ecstasy was put on-hold until after the final match against the hosts Israel though, when Sturgess saw his side dominate from start to finish with a thoroughly professional display.
Cook scored yet another outstanding solo goal to make it 1-0 at the break before Medina added a second following good work from Ward.
The hosts hit-back towards the end of the game, but Ward put the game beyond doubt in the final minutes to make it 3-1.
England will now proceed to the Main Round of the World Cup in December for the first time, where they will face hosts Hungary, Ukraine and Belgium; three high quality opponents.
And whilst England impressed at points during the Israel qualifiers, it was evident that the Lions are capable of even higher calibre performances, particularly with the outstanding William Wallace still to return to the team to add further quality.
Prior to that the Lions will host strong opposition in Poland during a double-header at St George’s Park on the 14 and 15 November as preparation.
Jordan Parker (GK), Ian Parkes (C), Agon Rexha, Richard Ward, Doug Reed, Raoni Medina, Max Kilman, Luke Ballinger, David Jennings. James Webb
Arthur Rogers, Russell Goldstein, Stuart Cook, Tom Dennis (GK)
Game 1 v Wales
England: Parkes 8, Rexha 23, Ward 27, Cook 37
Wales: Hugh 3, Zulkarnain 17
Game 2 v Denmark
England: Cook 1, 6, Jensen 11 og, Medina 22, Ward 25
Denmark: Falck 16, 23, 24, Rexha 34 og
Game 3 v Israel
England: Cook 15, Medina 21, Ward 39
Israel: Bilech 35