Futsal Whites Miro Major and Elias Billeh have been in the game for 15 years and are still going strong.
The pair will be pulling up their socks to compete in the Oceania Confederation Futsal Invitational Championships next week from July 23 to July 27 at the Trusts Arena in Waitakere.
It is the first time the event has come to New Zealand.
On a court about half the size of a regular football field, with a smaller ball and only five players on each side, futsal is often seen as a miniature version of the world’s most popular sport.
But that doesn’t mean it is less intense, Billeh says.
“I love the speed of it. You get a rush.
“When you’re on the court you’re running the entire time. You can’t have a break. If you stop, the other team will almost always score because your guys are outnumbered.”
The 28-year-old Meadowbank man originally played association football but turned to the indoor version almost 15 years ago. He has been playing goalie for the Futsal Whites since 2004.
“I just fell in love with it. It’s a very mind-focused game. I gave up football and concentrated on this because it gave me more as a player.
“Keeping is a high of adrenaline in a way. It’s not just about the saves – I can see the whole court.”
Major agrees space is essential for the small number of players to work together.
The 32-year-old is originally from Croatia and now lives in Mt Wellington.
He started playing futsal with friends back home on concrete and immediately picked up the indoor game when he moved to New Zealand 15 years ago.
“The skills of the game keeps me in it. It’s very technical.
“If things go wrong it’s a real problem.”
He says the target for the Futsal Whites is qualifying for the FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2016. The New Zealand team has never made the competition but it is not off the cards, he says.
“We definitely have a chance. There’s a lot of good players coming through and we’ve got momentum. We just keep getting better.”
Oceania Football Confederation futsal development officer Paul Toohey says international competition can only be good for the New Zealand team.
Futsal is going from strength to strength in the Oceania region with more than 23,000 players in New Zealand alone.
The boom happened largely after Football New Zealand took futsal under its wing three years ago.
Futsal is now incorporated into football development programmes and attracts players from all fields, he says.
“It’s all changing. People are starting to see it’s not just something to do when it rains. We’ve got a lot of specialist futsal players coming through.”
In Europe, the game is professional which means tough competition at the World Cup, Mr Toohey says.
To get to that level, New Zealanders need to grab every opportunity to face international competition, he says.
“The whole idea of the tournament is to give the players the experience they need. They need to have as many games as possible.”
CHECK IT OUT
Watch the Futsal Whites take on international competiton at the Trusts Arena in Waitakere from July 23-27.
Go to oceaniafootball.com for a game schedule or more information.