Wellington teenager Izaac O’Hara represents a sport on the rise.
The talented 17-year-old plays futsal, the world’s most popular form of indoor football, while also juggling a promising career in the outdoor version of the game.
Capital City Futsal development officer Matt Fejos says the sport has recently exploded in Wellington and that growth is set to continue with the opening of the Indoor Community Sports Centre in Kilbirnie later this year.
“It has been in Wellington for three years and it started with a little six-team league in Hataitai,” Fejos said.
“Now we’ve got over 70 teams ranging from the social to the competitive, from primary school age up to adults. The stadium in Kilbirnie is going to be huge for us.”
Futsal has traditionally been treated as a poor cousin, but that is changing with New Zealand Football including the sport as a key component of its “whole of football” plan.
“It’s a sport in its own right with its own opportunities but it comes under that family of football,” Fejos said.
“It makes better football players, and overseas especially in South America, it’s credited for their skills.
“Some of the world’s greatest players credit playing futsal as a kid.
“In Brazil they play up to 12-year-olds indoors before they even get out on a full-sized field. There’s 12 times more touches on the ball than in an outdoor game and less space, everything’s quicker.”
The two key differences between futsal and football are a smaller and lower bouncing ball, which is easier to control, while there are kick-ins rather than throw-ins.
“It emphasises keeping the ball at your feet and having control.”
O’Hara was a member of the Capital City team which finished runners-up to a Sydney team at this month’s nationals.
He was selected in the senior NZ futsal team, the Futsal Whites, last year but missed out this year.
Five Wellingtonians – David Plowright, Tariq Assad, Lucas Da Silva, Miroslav Malivuk and Said Soleimanpour – have been included in the squad to prepare for the Oceania Championships in May, which doubles as the qualifying tournament for next year’s World Cup.
O’Hara, who will play for Wellington High School in this weekend’s national secondary schools championships, said futsal was the perfect complement to the outdoor game.
“There’s so many footballers that play and they’re very good but they don’t know the structure or any of the tactical stuff,” O’Hara said.
“It’s an awesome sport, fast, fun and ideal for developing your skills.”