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Futsal took centre stage on the second day of the UEFA Champions Festival in London – despite inclement weather not usual for the indoor discipline.
A fast-paced game for which UEFA organises both national team and club competitions, futsal is growing in popularity in much of Europe, including England. And both current and future English internationals were on display at The International Quarter close to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as well as world stars of futsal and football.
Opening the day's festival proceedings were youth challenge games before Portuguese international Ricardinho and former Spain captain Javi Rodríguez – in their role as futsal ambassadors – joined England manager Pete Sturgess in a coaching session for Football Association (FA) centre of excellence talents.
Ricardinho, a 2010 UEFA Futsal Cup winner with former club SL Benfica, told UEFA.com: "It is a great day for futsal. Well done to UEFA for putting on this futsal day. We hope England will build an even stronger team in the future. There is great young talent here. England have everything in place to have a strong national team"
Sturgess's England side then took on FC Barcelona's Under-23s in a friendly. Despite pouring rain, each team showed their talents with Barcelona mastering the conditions in a 6-3 win.
"Part of me was thinking I'm glad we're not playing them on a futsal court because they were really tasty!" Sturgess said. "Their movement is something we can only dream about at the moment but it was a really good test for us. That is the kind of level we need to play at so it can become the norm for our players.
"Ricardinho and Javi were fully engaged with everything we were doing and, as ambassadors for everything we are trying to do for futsal in England, they were magnificent. It was great to work with the centre of excellence players because that is almost the first tier now that we are trying to put in place. The standard was really good."
Ricardinho and Javi returned to the pitch for an all-star challenge featuring Robert Pirès, Cafu, Giovanni van Bronckhost, Vítor Baía, actors James and Oliver Phelps from the Harry Potter films (who received a £50,000 cheque from UEFA on behalf of the Teenage Cancer Trust) and players from English champions Helvécia Futsal London.
Pirès said: "As a footballer I played five-a-side a lot because it is very good for technique, for fitness. So when I play with legends like Cafu today, it's good to be on the pitch to enjoy the football. It's very similar playing futsal and football, physically."
Saturday's action will run from 09.00–18.00 UK time, with the centrepiece being the Ultimate Champions Match in which UEFA Champions League legends go head-to-head in a five-a-side game.
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