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UEFA and futsal: a timeline

We study the development of the five-a-side game in Europe across three decades of exciting growth.

UEFA via Getty Images

UEFA Futsal EURO 2022 will be the biggest edition of the tournament so far, the first to feature 16 teams at the finals and the first to have 50 of UEFA's 55 national associations enter, with a new home-and-away qualifying group stage. .

It is an important watershed moment for the sport in Europe, but its popularity has not come overnight.

Portugal won their first UEFA Futsal EURO title in Slovenia in 2018
Portugal won their first UEFA Futsal EURO title in Slovenia in 2018UEFA via Sportsfile

Futsal's origins can be traced back to 1930, when it was invented by Uruguayan teacher Juan Carlos Ceriani in response to the continual flooding of outdoor pitches during the country's rainy season, which prevented his pupils from playing football for long periods.

Far from being a simple derivative of football played indoors, futsal was devised as a whole new sport, taking inspiration from basketball (the number of players), handball (the pitch), water polo (the role of the referee) and, of course, football.

The game soon spread across South America but Europe was more resistant – a version of indoor mini-football became popular in the Soviet Union in the 1950s but it wasn’t until the 1970s that futsal reached western Europe, South American immigrants bringing it with them to Portugal and Spain.

Futsal EURO: Great final goals
Futsal EURO: Great final goals

In 1974, the UEFA Executive Committee established a Committee for Indoor and Women’s Football in a bid to standardise the sport, which was being played in two different formats – both five-a-side and eight-a-side – on pitches of differing sizes, with various different types of ball, and with differing rules as to whether the ball could be played against the side panels or not. UEFA’s efforts had no immediate impact and the committee was disbanded in 1978 – a sport for which national competitions were organised in only five European countries was simply not a priority.

In 1989, FIFA organised its first Futsal World Championship (later renamed the FIFA Futsal World Cup) in the Netherlands, with UEFA assuming responsibility for the European qualifying competition for the 1992 edition. Two mini-tournaments, featuring five teams each, took place in Spain and Italy.

Spain became the first UEFA Women's Futsal EURO champions in 2019
Spain became the first UEFA Women's Futsal EURO champions in 2019

By 1993, only 13 of UEFA's member associations organised national futsal championships, but at the instigation of Executive Committee member Ángel María Villar Llona, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation, a questionnaire was sent to all associations to establish a picture of the state of futsal in Europe.

In the autumn of 1995, UEFA organised European qualifying for the 1996 Futsal World Championship, as well as an invitational tournament in Cordoba, Spain for the continent's top teams. This was to be the genesis of today's modern UEFA Futsal EURO, and where we pick up the timeline of events that leads us to the present day.

Then and now: futsal's growth across Europe

Russia and Spain ine up for UEFA's inaugural futsal tournament in January 1996
Russia and Spain ine up for UEFA's inaugural futsal tournament in January 1996

1996-2009: Early days

1996 The inaugural UEFA futsal tournament is staged in Cordoba in January, featuring six of Europe's top teams. Seventeen nations across three qualifying groups had entered, the first qualifier taking place on 23 October 1995 as Ukraine beat Yugoslavia 9-5. Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy and Ukraine join hosts Spain, who take the title after a 5-3 win in the final against Russia. The tournament is deemed a success, and in 1997, the UEFA Executive Committee opts to introduce a full-scale UEFA European Futsal Championship, to be played every two years. 1999 The first official championship takes place in Granada, Spain. Russia take the title after a penalty shoot-out against the hosts, following a 3-3 draw. Konstantin Eremenko nets 11 goals at the finals, a record that still stands. A total of 25 countries take part in qualifying, with the finals featuring eight teams – a number that will remain until 2010. 2001 Spain triumph 2-1 against Ukraine in the European Futsal Championship final, held in Moscow in February. With nine unofficial European club competitions taking place across the continent, the UEFA Executive Committee approves a request for the launch of its own European club competition. And so, the UEFA Futsal Cup is born, with clubs from 27 different national associations contesting the inaugural competition in 2001/02. The tournament ends with a finals competition in Lisbon for the top eight teams in February 2002. Playas de Castellón of Spain are the winners, defeating Belgium's Action 21 Charleroi in the final. 2003 Italy delight the home crowd in Caserta with a 1-0 victory against Ukraine in the national team final, while the UEFA Futsal Cup tweaks its format with a two-legged final introduced. Castellón defend their crown with Charleroi defeated in the final once again. 2005 29 nations enter qualifying for the UEFA European Futsal Championship. Spain, who won their second straight World Cup in 2004, reclaim the continental crown in Ostrava with a 2-1 win over old rivals Russia. 2007 For the first time, 40 clubs enter the UEFA Futsal Cup, with a new four-team final tournament reached by seeds Inter, Dynamo, Charleroi and Murcia, who had all been given byes to the elite round. Russians Dynamo dramatically triumph over Spanish holders Inter in the final, hosted by Murcia. On the international stage, Romania, which had only introduced futsal in 2003, are surprise participants at the finals. Spain hold their nerve to retain their title in Portugal, where the tournament tops TV ratings with an overall viewership of 11.7 million, 4.4 million watching in the host nation. This leads to a boost in marketing and commercial revenue for future tournaments. 2008 An experimental eight-team UEFA Under-21 Futsal Tournament is held in St Petersburg, and won by hosts Russia. Continue below

Futsal EURO: Goalscoring keepers
Futsal EURO: Goalscoring keepers

2010-2016: Building momentum

2010 The European Futsal Championship switches to the January or February of even-numbered years, where there is a vacant slot in the UEFA schedule, and is expanded to 12 teams, with games taking place across two cities in the host nation for the first time. Hungary's Budapest and Debrecen stage the action, with an innovative matt black pitch appealing to viewers. One thing that doesn’t change is Spanish dominance, with the emerging force of Portugal beaten 4-2 in the final. 38 teams enter the qualifying stage, demonstrating the gradual growth of the game across Europe, with Azerbaijan and Belarus making their first-ever UEFA finals appearance. 2012 Hosts Croatia had not qualified since 2001 but went on a thrilling run to the semi-finals, three times setting the tournament's record attendance – 14,300 watched their Zagreb loss to Russia in the last four. Despite being 34 seconds from defeat, there is still no stopping Spain, who come from behind to clinch their fourth straight title. The total number of entrants reaches 43. 2014 Spain's run of dominance is interrupted as Italy are crowned European champions, beating Russia in Antwerp. 2016 The UEFA Futsal EURO finals in Serbia see a record 129 goals, with 10 coming in a final that sees Spain regain their crown with a 7-3 win over Russia. Five of the ten double-header matchdays are sell-outs, with a total attendance of 113,820. UEFA tournament newcomers Kazakhstan are the surprise package, taking the bronze medal. Forty-six teams enter the EURO qualifiers, while the UEFA Futsal Cup sees 50 clubs participate for the first time.

 

The best of Futsal EURO 2018
The best of Futsal EURO 2018

 

2017 onwards: Focus sharpens

2017 On 4 April, the UEFA Executive Committee approves a number of changes that will revolutionise futsal in Europe – they include the launch of a first-ever UEFA Women's Futsal EURO and rebranding of the UEFA Futsal Cup to become the UEFA Futsal Champions League in 2018/19. At the time, only seven national associations have senior women’s national teams and 30 nations possess no registered women’s futsal players at all, but will quickly take up the challenge of developing the game on home soil. The Under-19 Futsal EURO is also announced, to be held every two years and with final tournaments featuring eight teams. This paves the way for the UEFA Futsal EURO to now be staged on a four-year cycle. 2018 Portugal are finally crowned European champions, spearheaded by the great Ricardinho, who in his fifth Futsal EURO, nets seven goals to take his all-time tally to a record 22. He is named Player of the Tournament following Portugal's 3-2 win after extra time against neighbours Spain in Ljubljana. 2019 The first UEFA Futsal Champions League title also heads to Portugal, as Sporting CP end a run of final defeats when they beat hosts Kairat Almaty to lift the trophy. Portugal are undone at the inaugural Women's Futsal EURO, though, despite hosting the four-team finals in Gondomar. They are beaten in the final by Spain, with Russia pipping Ukraine to bronze. Twenty-three nations had entered qualifying. In September, Spain become the first Under-19 Futsal EURO winners, beating Croatia 6-1 in the Riga final. 2020 The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forces the suspension and postponement of action. In June, it is announced that the second Women's Futsal EURO would be delayed by 12 months until March 2022 – they will return to Gondomar. Despite restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the virus, UEFA is able to stage the Futsal Champions League in October, behind closed doors. Hosts Barça win the first all-Spanish final, defeating Murcia 2-1. 2021 The pandemic forces an adapted format for the 2020/21 edition of the Champions League, with single-leg knockout ties leading to an expanded eight-team finals behind closed doors in Zadar, Croatia. The previous two winners made the final and Sporting came back from two down at half-time to dethrone Barça 4-3. 2022 This year will be the biggest in the history of European futsal. For the first time, UEFA Futsal EURO featured 16 teams for the first time. Of those, four - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia and Slovakia – were finals debutants. Portugal retained their title, coming from two goals down to defeat Russia 4-2 in a classic final. The UEFA Women's Futsal EURO returns to Gondomar, Portugal in early July. The Futsal Champions League will see Sporting, Barça, Benfica and ACCS Asnières Villeneuve 92 go head-to-head at Latvia's Arena Riga. The Under-19 Futsal EURO also returns in 2022, with the finals in Jaén, Spain, in September.