The Solomon Islands national futsal team, the Kurukuru, have been slowly building the reputation of futsal in Oceania since their first appearance at a FIFA World Cup in 2008 right up to their historic win over Guatemala at the 2012 edition last month.
Seeing the progress that has been made in four short years, the federations of Tahiti and New Zealand have begun putting the foundations in place to make solid attempts to secure the Oceania berth at the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2016.
New Zealand Football futsal development officer Dave Payne attended a number of matches at the recent World Cup in Thailand catching some of the games greats in action – including 2012 victors Russia – and says the experience has been phenomenal.
He says the results during the tournament were somewhat surprising, with a team that may be well beaten in one game going on to post a positive result in the next, but this made the sport more interesting for developing sides.
“Everyone has a chance to do well. We’ve still got the top four teams, but below them everyone is getting a lot closer and matches are getting tougher,” Payne says.
“But one thing I have noticed is that while we are still a long way from the standard on display here, we’re not as far as I thought we were. There are some teams here we could beat – or at least have the possibility of doing well against.”
Also in Thailand were Futsal Whites coach Scott Gilligan, Auckland Football Federation and Waikato-Bay of Plenty Football futsal development officers James Vaughan and Brayden Lissington, as well as Waikato football development officer Simon Mead, who all took advantage of their overseas excursion to fit some matches in.
Payne says while seeing the talent on display was a highlight of the trip another element to his visit was to present two projects – Learning from the World, Playing with the World and Education in Play – to the various federations in attendance.
“The plan is to establish a dedicated national futsal season in the football off-season with clubs and schools playing in leagues,” Payne says.
“We would then look at national team tournaments similar to the Trans Tasman Cup – at the weekend have the national side playing a regional team. Then, even bigger than that, have the national side play a visiting international side.”
The issue currently holding back this project, Payne says, is funding.
“There are huge expenses involved. We can’t fly teams here, it’s not financially possible. So we’ve had to look at what is in it for them – we have a good Grassroots programme and we’re willing to share that in order to attract more games for the national team.”
Payne also has the Education in Play project which he hopes will be equally beneficial in drawing international game time for the Futsal Whites.
“We can go to their country with the Futsal Whites, who are all trained or training to coach, and deliver the programme to teachers in schools and members of the community during the day, then have games in the evening.”
He says discussions went well and while it’s still early days he is confident the projects will be implemented in the near future.
Also in Thailand with an eye on representing Oceania in 2016 was a small team from Tahiti including national coach Heitapu Hunter and two volunteer technical assistants, Jean-Baptiste Barsinas and Jacob Tutavae.
The first match they attended was the quarter-final qualifier between Paraguay and Portugal and they rounded out their visit by attending 16 matches in total.
The technical team intend to use the knowledge they have gained from the experience to build up the national futsal team, the Aito Arii, who proved they are on the rise with the issuing of a strong challenge to current Oceania heavyweights Solomon Islands during the final of the OFC Futsal Championship in 2011.
OFC Futsal and Beach Soccer Development Officer Paul Toohey says it is encouraging to see some of the key people involved in developing the sport in Oceania attending the tournament.
“It’s a great opportunity for these delegations to see the current level of the game on an international scale,” he says.
“It also offers them a chance to make contact with people who can help develop futsal in the region and build relationships which, hopefully, will translate to more games being organised.”