Is the sport of futsal the key to why the Brazilian team are the most successful football team in the history of the men’s FIFA World Cup? It’s difficult to define precisely how important the sport has been, but the sport has definitely been influential in the style of Brazilian football. Futsal has recently been promoted in the United Kingdom as a way to produce more skillful footballers and ultimately achieve greater success on the international stage. But what is futsal, and can it help to achieve these lofty ambitions?
Futsal is an indoor derivation of football developed in South America, most notably Brazil and Uruguay, during the 1930s. The modern version of futsal is played on pitches that are generally 40m long by 20m wide, though there is a small range in pitch dimensions permitted. A maximum of five players per side, including one goalkeeper, is allowed on the pitch at any time. However, with up to 7 substitutes allowed and unlimited substitutions that can be made at any time (other than the goalkeeper, who can only be substituted when the ball is out of play), the game is fast paced. The goal is 3m wide by 2m high and is surrounded by a 6m D known as the penalty area, within which the goalkeeper can use their hands as in football.
Many of the rules are similar to football, with some of the notable differences including kick-ins being used instead of throw-ins and teams punished for persistent fouling – once a team has committed more than five fouls in one half, any subsequent fouls result in a free kick from the second penalty spot, which is 10m from goal, or potentially even closer depending on where the foul was committed. The first penalty spot is 6m from goal and is used for penalties for any foul committed in the penalty area.
One difference between football and futsal which may not be immediately apparent to a spectator but makes a big difference in terms of the style of play is the ball. A futsal ball is slightly smaller than a size 4 football in terms of dimensions, yet the weight is similar to that of a size 5 football (you can find more details about the specifications for footballs and futsal balls on the FIFA website). Thus, a futsal ball is considerably denser than a football, altering its characteristics and influencing the style of play.
Style of Play
The lighter a ball is, the easier it will be to generate lift, all other factors being equal. Therefore the increased density of a futsal ball makes it more difficult to generate lift than a regular football, and also means the ball will not bounce as highly. Therefore whilst 5-a-side football bans players from kicking the ball over head-height, futsal has no such rule – chipping or scooping the ball over a defender or goalkeeper are part of the skill of the game. However, the characteristics of the ball when combined with the size of the pitch mean that a hopeful long ball out from defence is unlikely to be a successful tactic. Instead, the game play is characterised by a short passing game, teamwork and movement off the ball in order to create a shooting opportunity. However, dribbling is also a key part of the game – with no walls to play off, players have to be creative with their dribbling skills in order to play their way out of tight spaces and dangerous areas, meaning that close control is especially valuable.
The Benefits of Futsal
The style of the game offers a number of benefits in terms of player development, with a strong emphasis on technique and teamwork. The need for improvisation can help bring about innovative skills – Ronaldinho, twice FIFA World Player of the Year, grew up playing futsal before moving on to playing organised football, and his trademark ‘flip flap’ trick is the type of skill that he developed playing futsal.
The smaller-sided elements of the game also offer a number of benefits in terms of player development. Each player will have more regular touches of the ball, and will have a regular involvement in all aspects of the game. There is far less demarcation between attackers and defenders than in 11-a-side football, with all players required to actively contribute to both attack and defence.
Is futsal a sport in it’s own right?
In the strictest sense, futsal is a derivation of football and is administered by the same international federation, FIFA. Yet although the game is in many ways ideal for developing footballers, the game is not exclusively for them. Children and adults can enjoy futsal in its own right. Many people will be attracted by the emphasis on skill, teamwork and the regular involvement in the game. You don’t need to worry about the weather, and you only need 10 people for a game, so can be a great social game as well as a sport.
What equipment do you need?
The key piece of equipment is the ball, otherwise you are essentially playing 5-a-side football. If you cannot find specialist futsal goals, Handball goals are the same dimensions whilst field hockey goals are only slightly larger (3.66m by 2.14m), so can be used as an alternative if necessary. Indoor football trainers will be perfectly suitable for the game, whilst there are also some trainers such as the Kipsta Agility 500 Futsal Boots which are designed for futsal.
So, will playing more futsal translate into international success?
Futsal certainly isn’t the only answer in terms of developing skillful players – for example, Germany have regularly been praised in recent years for developing technically gifted players such as Mesut Özil, yet did not even enter a team for the UEFA Futsal Euro 2014 tournament – German progression has come through alternative methods. Nor is futsal the answer in isolation. Even when the futsal is coached well at junior level, the transition required to be able to utilise these skills in the environment of outdoor, 11-a-side football played on grass or synthetic pitches with a different ball, different goals and different rules is considerable. Yet a game where players are more regularly involved in the play and technical skill is highly valued can only have benefits in terms of the player development. It might not be the answer on its own, but it certainly seems like part of the answer.
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