Saturday 08 October 2016, 11:20

All change on the futsal scene

If there is one thing that made the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 a turning point in the history of the sport, then it was Argentina's maiden title win. The only one of the competition's three ever-presents never to have graced a final before, La Albiceleste set that record straight in style.

Brazil and Spain, the other two sides with perfect attendance records and the only previous winners of the competition, both crashed out earlier than expected, which merely heightened the feeling that Colombia 2016 marked a break with the past, regardless of the identity of the eventual winners. Adding to the sense that this was the end of an era in international futsal was the departure of Brazil star Falcao from the world stage. It all left many wondering if the game had seen the emergence of a new world order.

“Up to now it’s just been words, but the global spread of the game and its professionalisation have raised standards from the bottom up,” said Diego Giustozzi, the coach responsible for Argentina’s improvement since the last World Cup, both as a team and on an individual level, as reflected by the awards presented to team captain Fernando Wilhelm and goalkeeper Nicolas Sarmiento.

“You need more than just a reputation to win the big names now,” added Giustozzi. “The results are there for everyone to see: if you don’t put the work in, then you’re out.” Reflecting on what his side’s title win signifies, he added: “It means Argentina are now very much a part of the world futsal elite.”

A new wave Like Argentina, Russia came into the competition as contenders, a status they confirmed by defeating their bogey side Spain in the quarter-finals. Combined with their billing as European runners-up, that victory made them favourites heading into the final. Not for the first time, however, the Russians were denied at the last.

“It’s been a fantastic success for Russian futsal,” said team captain Vladislav Shayakhmetov. “Not everyone can say that they’re World Cup runners-up. For us it was fantastic to play in the final.”

Completing the podium were Iran, another team to make the most of their attributes and who scored a notable success in knocking Brazil out in the last 16. “Futsal is as popular as football in my country, but we don’t have the facilities,” explained their coach Seyed Nazemalsharieh. “We’re looking to raise standards and this third place will go a long way to helping us do that.”

The rest of the fieldPortugal also impressed, though given all their individual attributes they were disappointed to finish only fourth. Spain had even less to celebrate. Hampered by a string of injuries, they failed to progress to the semis for the first time since the inaugural world finals.

In contrast, debutants Azerbaijan were thrilled to make the quarter-finals, as were Paraguay and Egypt, two other sides to make a very favourable impression at Colombia 2016. As for Italy, however, they took a backward step, having made the podium at the previous three World Cups.

There was no bigger surprise than the last-16 exit of five-time world champions Brazil, who, for the first time in their history, were absent from the last four, while hosts Colombia also fell short of expectations and were unable to back up the stunning fourth place they achieved in Thailand four years ago. Meanwhile, Thailand, Costa Rica and tournament newcomers Vietnam all provided a breath of fresh air with their hugely promising performances.

A legend departs, stars excel Bowing out on a high by pocketing the adidas Bronze Boot, the peerless Falcao handed the baton on to a very worthy heir: Portugal’s Ricardinho. The winner of the adidas Golden Boot, the Portuguese star is one of those players who know what it means to be an ambassador for the sport on and off the pitch.

Also distinguishing themselves were a clutch of players in their mid to late 20s, among them Iran’s Ahmad Esmaeilpour and Mahdi Javid, the Argentinians Cristian Borruto and Alan Brandi, Spain’s Lozano, Egypt’s Ahmed Moza, Azerbaijan’s naturalised Brazilian Thiago Bolinha, Paraguay’s Juan Salas, Thailand’s Suphawut Thueanklang and Brazil’s Bateria.

As for the out-and-out veterans, it was Argentina skipper Wilhelm who stood out, along with Brazilian-born Russian pair Eder Lima and Romulo, Italy’s Humberto Honorio and Iran’s Mohammad Keshavarz. Figuring large among the tournament’s outstanding young players, meanwhile, were Argentina’s Sarmiento and Russia’s Ivan Chishkala.

The legacy of Colombia 2016 The Legacy Programme at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016 involved a total of four courses: sports management, grassroots futsal (rolled out at the three tournament venues), referees and an advanced coaching course in which coaches from Colombia’s Liga de Futsal Argos took part along with colleagues from countries that did not reach the world finals.

Among the FIFA instructors were Paulo de Oliveira, who coached Brazil to the world title on home soil in 2008, and Argentina’s Vicente De Luise, the man in charge of La Albiceleste at Netherlands 1989 and Hong Kong 1992, the first two Futsal World Cups.