By Helen Wood
The 2002 UEFA Futsal Cup laid the foundations for a strong club competition which is set to grow in size and importance across Europe.
For the uninitiated, Futsal is a five-a-side version of football which is particularly popular in southern and eastern Europe. It can be staged both inside and outside but uses a smaller ball and is played without side walls or boards. The UEFA Futsal Cup is a product of the rapid growth of Futsal across Europe during the 1990s and the popularity of the UEFA European Futsal Championship for national teams.
UEFA decided it was time to introduce a full-scale club tournament although there had previously been nine unofficial European club competitions. The inaugural UEFA Futsal Cup was held in February as a final tournament for eight teams in Lisbon. Spanish side Playas de Castellón won the trophy with a 5-1 victory over Belgium's Action 21 Charleroi.
Seven months later, the first qualifying round of the 2003 UEFA Futsal Cup has just been played, with 30 teams from across Europe involved. The teams - winners or runners-up of their domestic competitions - were divided into mini-tournaments and the eight winners progressed to the second qualifying round.
These were Castellón (Spain), Interviu Boomerang (Spain), Charleroi (Belgium), Norilsky Nickel (Russia), MNK Split (Croatia), FC Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Prato C/5 (Italy) and KMF Niš (YUG). They have now been divided into two pools of four, Group A and Group B. Each team in the group will play the others once on a mini-tournament basis next March with the group winners progressing to a two-legged final in April.
Castellón coach Faustino Pérez spoke to uefa.com about his thoughts on winning the first UEFA Futsal Cup, the chances of repeating that success and his hopes for the future of Futsal
uefa.com: What did it feel like to win the first UEFA Futsal Cup?
Faustino Pérez: Obviously it was a moment of great happiness, but there was also huge satisfaction after a lot of hard work. There was also a great feeling of having achieved further success outside our own country.
uefa.com: What did you think of the first qualifying round of the 2003 UEFA Futsal Cup held in Castellón recently? [Castellón topped Group 6 with three wins from three]
Pérez: It was clear we were the superior team, which demonstrates the professionalism of this sport in Spain.
uefa.com: Who are the strongest clubs in the second UEFA Futsal Cup?
Pérez: Action 21 Charleroi, who we faced in Portugal, Interviu Boomerang, and I should also add the clubs from Ukraine, Italy and Russia.
uefa.com: What do you think about the first UEFA Conference for Futsal? [Virtually all of UEFA's 52 member associations will be represented at the first UEFA Conference for Futsal taking place in Coverciano, Italy on 26-28 November]
Pérez: It is an interesting initiative, and it gives other countries the opportunity to develop their Futsal organisation.
uefa.com: How do you train and prepare for matches?
Pérez: It is difficult to give a quick answer. We have between eight and ten sessions each week - physical training, technical and tactical sessions and focusing on set-pieces or goalkeeping work. As for the dietary aspects, just as in other sports, this focuses more on the match day, when the players eat carbohydrates and protein.
uefa.com: What are your ambitions for Futsal?
Pérez: Of course to win every game we play, but also to try and contribute to the improvement of the quality of this sport - that is something I hope to achieve.
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