Thursday 28 March 2024, 14:00

FIFA Forward the catalyst for Argentina’s national futsal league

  • FIFA supporting Argentina’s Liga Nacional de Futsal since its inception in 2018

  • League provides national framework for futsal, increasing competition and expanding pool of Argentina players

  • World champions in 2016, runners-up in 2021 and qualifiers for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Uzbekistan 2024™, Argentina continuing to invest in development

Winning the FIFA Futsal World Cup™ in 2016 was more of a starting point than culmination for the Argentinian Football Association (AFA), which sought to build on that success and bring about the sustained growth of the sport.

The challenge they faced was to take Argentinian futsal from its base in Buenos Aires, make it a truly national concern and then reap the rewards of that development: more and better-organised clubs, increased competition, more players and, in time, a larger talent pool for national team coaches to select from.

And so, in 2018, the Liga Nacional de Futsal Argentina (LNFA) came into being, a tournament open to clubs from the country’s interior and belonging to the Consejo Federal, a division of the AFA division. The league was the brainchild of Diego Giustozzi, the coach who steered Argentina to that world title, and had the steadfast support of AFA President Claudio Tapia. The final push came from FIFA, who backed the league’s launch through its Forward programme.

Image of the Liga Nacional de Futsal Argentina trophy

The logistical and financial assistance it provides has helped the league through its first five seasons. The first two were supported by the initial programme’s operational funding, and the last three (2021, 2022 and 2023) by a second FIFA Forward project that ended with Barracas Central lifting the title in March last year. The 2020 league season was cancelled on account of the pandemic.

Sergio Palacios, FIFA Regional Development Manager for the Americas, has followed the league every step of the way: “Since 2018, we’ve been proud to support the AFA in the creation of the tournament. The level of participation has grown in every region and Argentinian futsal has spread across the country further than ever before. Its constant growth has made it a benchmark in.” Palacios added that the success of the LNFA format has been replicated in Argentinian women’s futsal with the creation of the Copa Federal Femenina.

The head of the AFA’s Futsal Committee, Jonathan Sanzi, struck an equally positive note. “We’re growing fast across the nation. Between the first season and this last one, we’ve seen that teams from the interior are so much better prepared now, the boys are better coached and the coaches more skilled. There’s still a gap to the Buenos Aires teams, which are almost professional, but that gap is closing all the time.”

Phase / Edition20182023
Provincial Phase27 leagues47 leagues
138 participating teams667 participating teams
Regional Phase5 regions9 regions
National Phase12 participating teams16 participating teams

The development of the league is reflected by the fact that the number of teams competing in the final phase jumped from 12 in its first three seasons to 16 in 2022 and 2023. In this last campaign, nine Consejo Federal teams emerged from the regional and provincial rounds, representing the provinces of San Luis, Santa Fe, Chaco, Santiago del Estero, Rio Negro, Cordoba and Tierra del Fuego, one of the southernmost regions in the world.

“FIFA’s help has been vital,” said Sanzi. “This is a big country and it’s not easy to get the clubs together and give them a top-class tournament like this. The teams from the interior really do feel professional now. They play in front of crowds of 5,000 and their games are shown nationwide on a public TV station and on the AFA’s YouTube channel.”

Alborada, team participant of the Liga Nacional de Futsal Argentina 2023

Keeping pace with the big guns

No one is more excited at the development of the Liga Nacional de Futsal than Matias Lucuix, who was an assistant coach to Giustozzi in 2016 and was appointed his successor in July 2018. A World Cup runner-up in 2021, Lucuix has kept a close eye on the evolution of a tournament that is crucial to the growth of Argentinian futsal.

“Firstly, it’s the only truly national annual competition,” said the 38-year-old coach, who was there last year to watch Barracas Central win their third consecutive title by beating Boca Juniors on penalties. “It raises the profile of the sport and pushes clubs who want to take part to invest and grow.

“In terms of the national team, it allows us to see a lot more players. It’s a big country and sometimes it’s hard to get to all the places where futsal’s played, which is why I kept a closer eye on the teams from the interior in the final phase. I spoke to players, coaches and directors and got some important information together.”

Head Coach Matias Lucuix of Argentina reacts during the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2021

Lucuix is already in “preparation mode” for the upcoming World Cup in Uzbekistan, where Argentina, now an established force in the game, will start as one of the favourites. “It’s tough, but we know what our responsibilities are. Our expectations will be the same as always: to play seven matches and reach the pinnacle.”

The LNFA is here to stay. FIFA helped us a lot, and if we don't replicate it now, everything we did will be lost, and it makes no sense.

Jonathan Sanzi
Presidente de la Comisión de Futsal de AFA

Highlighting the importance of the LNFA, Lucuix added: “It’s vital that we make futsal a national concern because the powerhouses of world futsal have whole countries from which to choose players. In Argentina, though, they just come from one province (Buenos Aires). It’s up to us to keep on growing and developing the league, and not just at senior level. We’d love to have a national youth league too.”

“I’ve spoken about this with the directors of clubs in the interior: the league is here to stay,” said Sanzi in agreement. “FIFA have given us a lot of help and if we don’t follow that up now, everything we’ve done will be lost, which just wouldn’t make sense. People in futsal knew what this tournament could bring, but we had to go and show that to clubs, leagues and provinces across the country.”

Looking to the future with optimism, Sanzi added: “There are a few ideas out there, like making the league season three or four months long and playing home and away matches in the group phase. If we can create more competition, especially at U-15, U-17 and U-19 level, then we’ll be able to attract those youngsters more quickly and bring them closer to the national team and the elite. That will make it easier for us to keep them there.”