Friday 10 September 2021, 08:52

History in the making in Lithuania

  • For the first time in its history, Lithuania will host a FIFA tournament

  • The ninth FIFA Futsal World Cup™ begins on Sunday

  • "There’s a buzz in the air", says LFF president Tomas Danilevicius

For the first time in its history, Lithuania will host a FIFA tournament. The ninth FIFA Futsal World Cup™, which begins on Sunday, will see 24 teams battle it out over 52 games. Will Argentina defend the title they won in Colombia on 3 October in Kaunas? Will Spain make it a third triumph or will Brazil win a record-extending sixth title? Or perhaps it will be time for a fourth country to break into that elite circle of winners.

Host nation

The excitement is palpable when you talk to Lithuanian Football Federation president Tomas Danilevicius about the competition. "It’s the first World Cup of any kind and the first FIFA tournament that we’re hosting here in Lithuania,” he said. "There’s a buzz in the air, let me tell you. We want to announce ourselves on the world stage and make a good first impression." The city of Kaunas will host the opening game and the final, while Vilnius and Klaipeda are also on the list of host cities. The former, which is the Lithuanian capital, will handle group-stage matches and two quarter-finals, while Klaipeda will also host group fixtures that will be played over six days of intensive competition. Someone else who is certainly looking forward to the action kicking off is mascot Ivartito, who will be drumming up extra enthusiasm among the fans at venues. His name comes from the Lithuanian word for goal (įvartis) and will hopefully usher in plenty of exciting, net-bulging showdowns. Ivartito is a stork, which has been the national bird of Lithuania since 1973.

"The World Cup will definitely increase awareness of our country and make sure that people all around the world know the name of our homeland", added Lithuanian captain Justinas Zagurskas, teeming with pride.

The road to glory

For Lithuania, this is not only its first staging of a FIFA event, but also the maiden participation by its national teams at the Futsal World Cup. Drawn in Group A, they will take on fellow debutants Venezuela in the opening game on 12 September at the Kaunas Arena.

All told, there will be six groups of four teams at Lithuania 2021. The top two in each section, along with the four best third-placed sides, will progress to the Round of 16, with knockout matches from then on. The 52 fixtures will be refereed by 39 officials from 31 different countries spread across all the FIFA confederations. There will also be video support for the first time at a Futsal World Cup.

Defending champions

Argentina won their first Futsal World Cup five years ago in Colombia, defeating Russia 5-4 in the final. Constantino Vaporaki, who scored the winner that day, knows just how important a title like this can be to a country. "The badge on our jersey brings with it a great deal of responsibility – with the prestige that it gave us when we won and the position we now find ourselves in," he said. "It will serve as motivation for us – if we lose our hunger to win, we’ll soon be sliding back down the ranks."

Fernando Wilhelm of Argentina lifts the winners trophy

Record goalscorer hangs up his boots

Alessandro Rosa Vieira, better known as Falcao, is the record marksman at the Futsal World Cup, with 48 goals to his name. This veritable legend of the sport took part in five World Cups, finishing as top scorer in 2004 with 13 goals. Fans in Lithuania will not get to see the Brazilian’s ball skills, however, as the 44-year-old has retired from international futsal.

One to watch in Lithuania 

When it comes to the indoor version of the beautiful game, there are few names more respected than that of Kike Boned, the Spanish two-time world champion (2000 and 2004). Boned has a tip for any fans looking to catch one of the matches, telling "If I were Lithuanian and going to watch a World Cup game, it’d be a Brazil one. I'd pay the entrance fee just to see Pito."