Futsal is football with fast-forward button pressed

The format provides high-octane entertainment to fans and also ensures great preparation for the 11-a-side game, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Action from the Chinese Taipei-Tajikstan game yesterday is evidence to futsal’s popularity.
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Do you ever wonder where some of football's greatest such as Pele, Zico, Socrates, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane, or even Robinho, developed their sublime skills?

"Futsal was important in helping to develop my ball control, quick thinking and passing … also for dribbling, balance and concentration," the great Pele once said. "Futsal was very, very important, no doubt."

"I played Futebol de Salao [Spanish for futsal] for many years and it helped me to become the player I am today," Robinho, the AC Milan star, once said. "You don't have time to think, you are tightly marked and you develop a sense for performing in small spaces."

To put it simply, futsal is football with the fast-forward button pressed, a lot quicker and a bit rougher with virtually no time to catch your breath. Played within the lines of a basketball court, the sport reflects the bustle of life in the cities where it originated.

The shortage of playing pitches in crowded cities of South America forced the football mad population to devise this mini, five-a-side game.

So if the 11-a-side "Beautiful Game" is a walk through the cobbled lanes of a Venice or Rome, futsal is a bit like a ride in the local trains of Mumbai, or a drive through Rio de Janerio's traffic in the peak hours.

Closer to home, you can imagine futsal as that chunky, 4x4, tailing you with lights flashing on Sheikh Zayed Road.

It is life on the edge; it is hectic, but exciting nonetheless. It is high-octane. One look and you can understand why the great Ronaldo has said: "Futsal will always be my first love."

It is also not very difficult to imagine why futsal is credited with helping some of football's greatest legends - Pele, Zico, Socrates, Bebeto, Ronaldinho and Zidane - develop their skills.

"In futsal, you need to think quick and play quick," Pele once said. "So it's easier for you when you move to normal football."

Ronaldinho has added: "When you come to play normal football, it's easy if you've played futsal."

The speed at which the game is played necessitates improvisation and creativity, and demands great technique.

You need sharper reflexes and deft skills because there's always a man at your heel. All of these qualities are transferable to the 11-a-side game.

The nature of the short-sided game demands ball retention and quick, accurate passing; there is virtually no margin for error. It encourages skilful play, to keep possession or to create shooting opportunities in tightly marked spaces.

The game creates tactical awareness being a "whole team" game since you need to move together as a team in attack or defence. The increased number of touches on the ball accelerates the learning process.

"I came out of futsal and developed my skills in this way of football," Denilson, another of Brazil's former stars and once the world's most expensive player, said. "I play the same way now [in the outdoor game] as I did on the futsal courts as a kid."

The game is a spectacle for the fans as well and a noisy crowd of Lebanese and Japanese, many with their children in tow, had assembled at the Al Wasl stadium yesterday to support their teams in the opening match of the AFC Futsal Championship, despite the midday start yesterday.

The Lebanese made plenty of noise, but the Japanese came with their traditional drums that drowned their opponents out. Their joy, of course, knew no bounds when Henmi Katsutoshi converted a winning penalty with only seven seconds left in the match.

Rizwan Ahmed, a Lebanese supporter was dejected, but still enjoyed the experience.

"I must admit I have never watched a futsal game before," he said. "But this was pretty exciting and if I can find some time, I will surely come back for Lebanon's other two games.

"We did well considering we were playing Japan, who are one of the favourites for the title. So we have a chance to going further in this tournament."

There were not as many fans to support the home team when they took on Turkmenistan later in the evening, but this is a new sport in the UAE and the coach Paulo Eduardo De Jesus Pinho "Padu" is confident it can only grow from here.

"We hope hosting this tournament will change our attitude towards the sport and the clubs will be doing even more to make our league a lot more competitive," he said.

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& Ahmed Rizvi