The New Zealand futsal team was part of a successful weekend of action in Tauranga as part of a national programme of roadshows intended to grow the popular global game.
Futsal Whites coach Scott Gilligan, who travels to New Zealand several times a year from his base in Australia, said the roadshows are one step in the process of attracting more players to the growing sport.
More are to follow in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Auckland in what is easily the biggest year in the history of the sport in this country. Futsal is a variant of association football that is played on a smaller pitch and mainly indoors.
Gilligan believes the growth of futsal will prove pivotal in developing the next generation of football players.
“You get six times more touches than in football and have less time in a smaller space. It’s incredibly creative – you have to figure out ways to get around people,” said Gilligan. “In Brazil kids don’t start playing football until they are 14-years-old. They develop better touch because this ball doesn’t bounce.”
A three-test series against Australia will be played in Wellington from July 19-21, with the Oceania Championships scheduled for Auckland in late-July.
The top team from that contest qualifies for the Intercontinental Cup in Thailand in November, with the Solomon Islands – who routinely develop their best talent in professional futsal academies for children as young as 12-years-old – considered the favourites to advance.
The No1 seeds have placed great importance in the game for more than a decade while New Zealand Football has only begun to incorporate the game over the past few years.
Its growth, though, has been rapid. Each of the country’s federations are now affiliated to the national body and employ development officers, and a women’s national league is in the pipeline for early next year.
John Penyas, a 16-year-old St Paul’s Collegiate School pupil, was drafted into the New Zealand ranks for the 8-3 and 15-1 victories over the WaiBop side and a WaiBOP All Stars team at ASB Arena.
Touted as a future star of the game in New Zealand, Penyas said playing with the national team brought an increase in both speed and intensity.
He scored on debut and lauded the game as ideal for developing his footballing skills.
“You get more touches, which is great,” he said. “You can bring all the skills from futsal into football as well. In here it’s really tight, so if you get into tight positions in football you can get out of it easier.
“The other thing is that it is always on – the trainings are never cancelled because of the weather.”