Germany may hold the UEFA Champions League for both men and women, but when it comes to the other European club competition – the UEFA Futsal Cup – they are distinct minnows.
Since first entering the competition in 2007/08, German clubs have always fallen in the preliminary round. That includes Hamburg Panthers, beaten in a final-game decider by Sporting Club de Paris last season on their debut. Now Hamburg are back again, aiming to overcome Malta's Hibernians FC, Denmark's JB Futsal Gentofte and Finnish hosts FS Ilves Tampere from Wednesday in Group G.
"Unfortunately Germany are latecomers to futsal," Panthers coach Onur Ulusoy told UEFA.com. "Before, a unique German form of indoor soccer dominated and drew the crowds and people here had to get used to futsal's 'special rules'. There is a lot of untapped potential in Germany when it comes to futsal. There is an increasing demand for this sport, especially in the Hamburg region."
Ulusoy also has the numbers to back up his claim of an increasing interest in futsal. There is no Bundesliga in the sport but a final tournament called the DFB Futsal Cup, with the winner qualifying for Europe. Hamburg won the national cup last year and successfully defended it in April.
"Last year we only had 400 spectators for the final round; this time the arena was sold out with 1,200 people and we had to turn down another 200," said Ulusoy. "That's progress."
A regional league is expected to be the next step, with a Bundesliga to follow, and Ulusoy is hoping to see a national team created soon. "The best teams have to play each other on a regular basis. But there is enough potential for a national team right now. Our team has enjoyed some good results against other clubs full of internationals."
Indeed, Ulusoy's charges are not short of quality. "All of our players are also playing football, usually in the [fifth] or [fourth] tier. Some of them could have made it to the Bundesliga, but injuries or other circumstances prevented that."
Now a year on from their European bow, Hamburg are back, having performed admirably in a group including Paris and Futsal Topsport Antwerpen, who the Panthers held. "Last year we had the bad luck to have two powerhouses in our group and we lacked experience, which was one of our main shortcomings," Ulusoy said.
However, this time they have a "fairly easy group", according to Ulusoy. "We have created our very own way of playing futsal. Our main weapons are one-on-one situations; we are always capable of beating two defenders. Our attacking is quite unpredictable and our main motivation is to become the first German champions to get out of the preliminary round."
According to him, neither Gentofte nor Hibernians "should provide any problems for us". The coach concluded: "It will be down to us or Tampere, a side that have reached the main round three times."
As for Gentofte, their appearance is impressive as the club is less than two years old, and although they are missing key players Esben Bidstrup and Jacob Bondethey have nine internationals including new goalkeeper Christoffer Haagh and former American-based professional Mads Falck Larse.
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