By Greg Demetriou
Italy and Playas de Castellón FS may have stolen the headlines in Futsal this year but 2003 will also be remembered for the great strides made in the game's development.
While Italy lifted the UEFA European Futsal Championship and Castellón successfully defended their UEFA Futsal Cup crown, developments away from the pitch were as important. For example, more nations became involved and there was an inaugural UEFA seminar for Futsal referees.
The year began with the staging of the third UEFA European Futsal Championship in Caserta and Aversa, Italy between 17-24 February. The hosts finished as champions with a close fought 1-0 final success against Ukraine.
The other six finalists were Belgium, Czech Republic, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia and Spain. The Spanish were tipped to defend the title they won in 2001 after lifting the world crown in the previous year. Highlights from the group stage included the Czechs beating Russia 2-1, Spain being held 1-1 by Belgium and a dramatic late 1-0 victory for Italy against the Russians.
Bacaro the hero
In the semi-finals, Adriano Foglia scored twice in a stunning 2-1 Italian victory against Spain while Serhiy Koridze was among the scorers as Ukraine brushed aside the Czechs 5-1. Koridze's goal took him to seven for the tournament but the top scorer was unable to find the net in the final as the Italians won thanks to Vinicius Bacaro's solitary strike.
Clubs to fore
The club game took centre stage in March with two mini-tournaments being staged to find the finalists for the 2003 UEFA Futsal Cup. Eight of Europe's top clubs were involved and while reigning champions Castellón cruised through, there was drama in Belgium with Action 21 Charleroi qualifying only after Spanish side Interviú Boomerang FS were found to have fielded an ineligible player in a match.
It meant a repeat of the 2002 final with Charleroi hoping to avenge their 5-1 defeat by Castellón. However, the Spanish side earned a 1-1 draw on 16 April in Belgium before winning 6-4 at home on 3 May.
Qualifying for the 2004 UEFA Futsal Cup followed with 33 clubs involved including debuts in UEFA Futsal competition for Romanian and English sides, in the shape of AS Odorheiu Secuiesc and Tranmere Victoria FC. The first qualifying round in October saw eight group winners reach next March's second qualifying round. The possibility of a third Castellon-Charleroi final remained after the former side were drawn with Spanish rivals Interviú, FC InterKrAZ Kyiv of Ukraine and Dutch side ZVV West Stars while the latter got SL Benfica of Portugal, Italy's Prato C/5 and MNK Split of Croatia, who boast the former football star Robert Jarni in their ranks.
In November, the Czech Republic won the right to stage the 2005 UEFA European Futsal Championship. The draw for the preliminary and qualifying rounds to be played in early 2004 was also carried out with some intriguing matches in prospect including holders Italy drawn with in-form Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Another significant development in November saw nearly 40 of Europe's top Futsal match officials visit UEFA headquarters in Switzerland for an inaugural UEFA seminar. It focused on how this specialist area of refereeing should evolve, and the type of training and fitness required.
The year finished with five European nations booking their places at the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Championship to be held in Chinese Taipei. After an exciting qualifying round followed by five play-off matches in December, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ukraine and the Czech Republic made it through.
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