The FIFA Futsal World Championship finals in Chinese Taipei saw Spain reclaim their global title in fine style.
By Greg Demetriou
When it comes to the élite of international football, Spain are nearly always at the forefront of most people's thinking.
However, they rarely translate that expectation into results on the biggest stage, with last summer's UEFA EURO 2004™ finals being a classic case in point: Spain managed just two goals and were among the first to go home after their three group games. In marked contrast, Spain's Futsal side has just been crowned world champions for the second time after an outstanding performance at the fifth FIFA Futsal World Championship finals, held earlier this month in Chinese Taipei.
The Spanish, guided superbly by Javier Lozano, were 2-1 winners in the final against reigning European title-holders Italy, having beaten Brazil, the winners of the first three editions of the FIFA event, in the semi-finals. It was a stunning team showing, with the Spanish coping brilliantly despite the absence of their star player, Daniel, who picked up a knee injury just before departing for the Far East.
According to experts within the game, the Spanish showing was a tribute to their resilience and their ability to combine tactical discipline with forward flair. Mico Martic, webmaster of the highly respected www.futsalplanet.com and a former Croatian international and coach, told uefa.com why he felt Spain were deserved winners.
"I think they were stronger than in Guatemala [four years ago]," Martic said. "They were very concrete, played great zonal defence and kept their opponents' chances to a minimum. Even if Brazil were a technically better team they couldn't do anything against the Spanish tactical supremacy. The Brazilian Futsal school must add some new elements into their approach if they are to become the world's best again."
Martic added that he was encouraged by the showing of all the European sides in the finals and felt that the nations had drawn "closer than ever". Italy's strength had already been indicated by their success at the EURO in 2003, when they beat Spain in the semi-finals, but Martic was also delighted by the ability of Portugal and Ukraine. "In general, we are seeing a great growth in Futsal quality around the globe," he added.
In reflecting on his side's achievement, Lozano had paid tribute to their winning mentality. The all-conquering coach said: "To win a world championship, you have to know what it means to have lost one and I believe that our experience of losing in 1996 has helped us to be triumphant in gaining two consecutive titles." Strength in depth is another big asset for the Spanish with world-class performers like goalkeeper Luis Amado, the talismanic Javi Rodríguez and the prolific goalscorer Marcelo within their ranks.
Amado himself admitted the Brazilians may have had the greater flair but stressed the collective spirit of the players in front of him ensured Spain had more than earned the right to be crowned the world's best again. He said: "We did not lose our concentration at any point and all our hard work paid off even though it's obvious that Brazil are superior to us in terms of individual talent."
With the clear strength of the European game, all eyes have naturally turned to the 2005 UEFA European Futsal Championship being staged in Ostrava, Czech Republic, next February. The highlight will be when Spain and Italy renew their rivalry in a group stage game on 17 February. Whatever the outcome, Futsal fans can be certain that the Spanish will not disappoint when the rest of Europe is watching.