Futsal has come a long way from the first UEFA finals game on 8 January 1996.
Article top media content
Exactly 25 years ago, on 8 January 1996, Spain and Belgium kicked off the first UEFA futsal final tournament game. The competition was experimental; the legacy is immense.
Futsal, as a code of small-sided indoor football, had existed since the 1930s but only came under the auspices of FIFA five decades later, with the first World Cup in the Netherlands in 1989. UEFA began their first national-team competition a few years later, though with only 17 entries there were not enough for what was to become the Futsal EURO to be granted full championship status.
Qualifying in autumn 1995 produced six finalists to play over a week at IDM Fontanar in Córdoba, and hosts Spain won that first game, beating Belgium 2-1 with the goals by two men now considered futsal legends – Vicentín and Paulo Roberto. The Netherlands and Ukraine fell in the group stage and in the semi-finals on 12 January, Spain beat Italy and Russia saw off Belgium. Two days later the 4,500-capacity arena was full as Spain defeated Russia 5-3, Vicentín’s four goals outdoing two by another man whose name has entered futsal’s pantheon, Konstantin Eremenko.
Javier Lozano coached Spain to victory, the first of his three UEFA Futsal EURO titles alongside two FIFA Futsal World Cup triumphs. "There was a spectacular atmosphere at all matches and sincere affection in the streets. Córdoba sweats, and sweats good futsal.
"The key was the team. A group of players and coaching staff who not only fought for victory on the pitch, but also had the conviction of an apostle to bring the good news of futsal to the world, starting with Europe. This is how history is written, with deeds and not with words."
UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh, the former Scotland football manager, admitted in the UEFA Official Bulletin of March 1996: "I have to confess that I travelled to Córdoba with certain misgivings. My previous experiences of indoor football had been based on six-a-side games with a normal ball and boards all around the touchline, which meant the game could be played like a football version of ice hockey. What I saw in Spain gave me a great deal of food for thought … Anyone who has doubts about the value of futsal as a spectacle should be advised to watch a tape of the European final."
People in most places would have needed to track down a tape as TV coverage was only local; but tellingly viewing figures in the region were higher than competition from European Cup basketball on other channels. Now, swiftly granted full UEFA championship status, Futsal EURO began to flourish, and the 2022 finals in the Netherlands, involving an expanded 16 teams and a new-look home-and-away qualifying format, will be screened and streamed all over the world: witness the instant social media clamour after a spectacular goal by Portugal's Ricardinho at the 2016 finals in Belgrade.
Fifty of UEFA's associations entered the 2022 edition, most in countries where the word 'futsal' was at best obscure when Spain and Belgium kicked off in Córdoba 25 years ago. The UEFA Futsal Champions League, begun at the UEFA Futsal Cup in 2001/02, soon provided Europe's growing club scene with a competition and in 2019 the first Women's and U19 Futsal EUROs were held – another new step for a discipline that has come of age as an arena-packing, spectacular, established professional sport.
UEFA futsal roll of honour
2018: Portugal 3-2 Spain (aet): Ljubljana, Slovenia
2016: Spain 7-3 Russia: Belgrade, Serbia
2014: Italy 3-1 Russia; Antwerp, Belgium
2012: Spain 3-1 Russia (aet); Zagreb, Croatia
2010: Spain 4-2 Portugal; Debrecen, Hungary
2007: Spain 3-1 Italy; Porto, Portugal
2005: Spain 2-1 Russia; Ostrava, Czech Republic
2003: Italy 1-0 Ukraine; Caserta, Italy
2001: Spain 2-1 Ukraine (golden goal); Moscow, Russia
1999: Russia 3-3 Spain (aet, 4-3 pens); Granada, Spain
1996*: Spain 5-3 Russia; Córdoba, Spain
*UEFA European Futsal Tournament, championship status from 1999 onwards
2019: Spain 4-0 Portugal; Porto, Portugal
2019: Spain 6-1 Croatia; Riga, Latvia
2020 (Barcelona): Barça (ESP) 2-1 Murcia FS (ESP)
2019 (Almaty): Sporting CP (POR) 2-1 Kairat Almaty (KAZ)
2018 (Zaragoza): Inter FS (ESP) 5-2 Sporting CP (POR)
2017 (Almaty): Inter FS (ESP) 7-0 Sporting CP (POR)
2016 (Guadalajara): Ugra Yugorsk (RUS) 4-3 Inter FS (ESP)
2015 (Lisbon): Kairat Almaty (KAZ) 3-2 Barça (ESP)
2014 (Baku): Barça (ESP) 5-2aet FC Dynamo (RUS)
2013 (Tbilisi): Kairat Almaty (KAZ) 4-3 FC Dynamo (RUS)
2012 (Lleida): Barça (ESP) 3-1 FC Dynamo (RUS)
2011 (Almaty): Montesilvano (ITA) 5-2 Sporting CP (POR)
2010 (Lisbon): Benfica (POR) 3-2aet Inter FS (ESP)
2009 (Ekaterinburg): Inter FS (ESP) 5-1 Sinara Ekaterinburg (RUS)
2008 (Moscow): Sinara Ekaterinburg (RUS) 4-4aet, 3-2pens Murcia FS (ESP)
2007 (Murcia): FC Dynamo (RUS) 2-1 Inter FS (ESP)
2006: Inter FS (ESP) 6-3/3-4: 9-7agg FC Dynamo (RUS)
2005: Action 21 Charleroi (BEL) 4-3, 6-6aet: 10-9agg FC Dynamo (RUS)
2004: Inter FS (ESP) 4-1/3-4: 7-5agg Benfica (POR)
2003: Playas de Castellón (ESP) 1-1/6-4: 7-5agg Action 21 Charleroi (BEL)
2002 (Lisbon): Playas de Castellón 5-1 Action 21 Charleroi (BEL)
UEFA Futsal Cup until 2018, now rebranded as UEFA Futsal Champions League