Futsal's new dawn

The UEFA European Under-19 Futsal Championship is the latest stop on an exciting journey for European futsal in 2019.

Spain celebrate winning the inaugural UEFA Women's EURO earlier this year
Spain celebrate winning the inaugural UEFA Women's EURO earlier this year ©Sportsfile

New competitions, record crowds and increased participation all point to a bright future for European futsal.

The UEFA European Under-19 Futsal Championship is the latest stop on an exciting journey for European futsal in 2019. The year started with Spain being crowned champions at the inaugural UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO in February, then in April record crowds watched Sporting CP win the rebranded UEFA Futsal Champions League in Almaty.

This UEFA Under-19 Futsal EURO highlights the commitment to improving standards at youth level, while at senior level, the men’s Futsal EURO has been expanded to 16 teams for the next tournament in 2022. It is all part of UEFA’s strategy to grow the sport across Europe, and the investment in futsal is paying off.

Participation levels are soaring. Following the launch of UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO, 16 nations created women’s teams and 23 took part in the qualifying competition. A record 57 clubs from 53 nations entered teams in the UEFA Futsal Champions League, and 34 nations competed in qualifying for this Under-19 EURO.

Action from last season's UEFA Futsal Champions League semi-final between Sporting CP and Inter FS
Action from last season's UEFA Futsal Champions League semi-final between Sporting CP and Inter FS©Sportsfile

Impressive numbers on the pitch are matched by interest off it. Over the past five years, attendances in European futsal’s premier club competition have increased by over 80%, hitting new highs in 2019 with the UEFA Futsal Champions League final tournament in Almaty averaging nearly 10,000 fans per match. The UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO in Gondomar, Portugal, also drew healthy crowds, with attendances averaging 1,800 per game for the semi-finals and Spain’s triumph over the hosts in the final.

Now the spotlight turns to the U19s, and Latvia captain Renārs Šķesters-Kambals is convinced the tournament will attract more people to the game. “The UEFA Under-19 Futsal EURO final tournament is undoubtedly a great event for us as players as well as for the futsal community as a whole,” he said. “This will be a great futsal festival. It will also be a powerful turning point for the promotion of this sport when you consider the development of futsal in general. Former players can hardly have imagined that futsal would develop so quickly and that one day Latvia would be playing in a EURO final tournament.”

It is not the first time UEFA has staged a youth international futsal tournament. The UEFA European Under-21 Futsal Tournament was a one-off event held in 2008 and judging by the calibre of players who graduated from that competition, this year’s crop of U19s have plenty to look forward to. Russia won the title with a squad including Dmitri Prudnikov. They beat Italy in the final with the Azzurri counting future UEFA Futsal EURO champions Gabriel Lima and Daniel Giasson in their ranks, while from beaten semi-finalists Spain, Mario Rivillos and Pola have also gone on to lift the trophy at senior level.

For the likes of Šķesters-Kambals, those stars highlight just where a successful tournament here in Riga might lead. And with European futsal on the rise, it will be exciting to follow the progress of these ‘Futsal future magicians’ – as the tournament slogan says – as they embark on their journey to the top.

This article appears in the UEFA Under-19 Futsal EURO official tournament programme

 

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