What is futsal and how does it differ from 11-a-side football?

For those still trying to get to grips with this sport sweeping the globe, we thought we would explain a little about the differences between futsal and it's better known counterpart 11-aside football.

60 million futsal players

What are the basics?

Ok, so futsal can be traced back to Montevideo, Uruguay in 1930, where Juan Carlos Ceriani (a physical Education and Sports teacher) devised his own version of five-a-side of soccer for youth competition in YMCA's. The game is played on basketball-sized courts, both indoors and out without the use of sidewalls. Within the first 3 years Ceriani experimented with the rules and implemented the use of a 'low rebound ball', actually described as a "bola pesada" which translates across to "heavy ball".

Futsal is a form of five-a-side football (or soccer for those across the pond) played on hard indoor courts between two teams of five players (four outfield and one goalkeeper) in games of 20 minute halves, normally with a stop clock rule. In the UK, until recently, we had the 'Powerleague' style five-a-side football sport being the most popular form of small sided football, where the balls can rebound off the walls, and the goals are generally lower in height and much wider, however the sport is purely recreational and not recognised by FIFA, unlike futsal. In fact, playing futsal can actually lead to representing England internationally in UEFA Futsal Euros and the FIFA Futsal World cup. Just ask Stuart Cook or Liam Palfreeman, both play in the FA National Futsal League and both play for England on an international level.

The sport has a reputation for being high intensity with skilful tricks, fast movements, stunning team plays and generally more action per game, when compared to 11-a-side.

 

England U19's Monty Bouttell in warm up friendlies against Netherlands
Monty Bouttell in action for England Under 19's at St Georges Park

How big is the pitch?

In general, a futsal pitch is approximately a third of the size of a football pitch, but obviously this can vary due to futsal and football pitches having minimum and maximum dimension requirements, depending on the competition. Futsal, like football, has side lines not rebound barriers like many five-a-side pitches in the UK have, therefore when the ball goes out, play needs to be restarted. In futsal it is restarted with a kick in.

Having a small pitch generally means much shorter passing, players having to move within tight spaces (therefore the need to understand the tactics and strategy very well to create space), and the distance to goal be shorter; meaning you tend to see a lot more shots than in a football game. The tight spaces also contribute to a player having less space to control the ball in, which develops quick thinking and close control. Playing futsal from a young age can really improve a players technique and the ability to be more relaxed in tough situations.

Also, the futsal penalty area is a semi circle, as opposed to the rectangle we are so used to seeing in football.

Is the same ball used?

No, in futsal an official match ball in futsal is essentially a size 4 football (standard football is size 5). They are also designed with a special material in the bladder to reduce bounce, promoting a players' first touch and also focusing more on the next action, not thinking whether the ball will bobble like on a Sunday league waterlogged pitch, as we have all too often experienced.

What is the substitutions system like?

Officially a squad on match day will be made up of 12 players, but only 5 players can be fielded at once (1 goalkeeper and 4 outfield), but substitutions are rolling and unlimited, so players can be brought on and off as often as the coach likes. This is normally tactical as certain players play a certain way, so depending on the score line, a coach may put on different players to deliver different tactics throughout the game.

Any other rules differ from football?

Offside in futsal doesn't exist, you don't throw the ball into play from the sidelines, you kick it. For goalkeeper restarts, as in when it would be a goal kick in football, the keeper distributes from his hands, but must do so within 4 seconds. The 4 second rule is in force for corner kicks, kicks in and freekicks as well.

Each team gets one timeout per half, this is normally used to either break up the opposition's momentum, or to implement a new strategy for play or even a setplay. Also, if a team concedes 5 fouls in a half, the 6th foul is a 10m penalty, this is reset at half time. If a player is fouled within the penalty area, then the penalty is from the 6m mark.

Games last 20 minutes per half, and generally if an official league, the clock will stop when the ball is out of play, making the duration similar to that of football. Local leagues in England tend to play continuous clock, so the games actually only last 20 minutes per half, but this is not the official rules, just something being implemented by leagues to increase turnaround and participation levels.

How many people play futsal worldwide?

In a 2006, the FIFA 'Big Count' Study it was concluded that there were 1 million futsal players worldwide.

Then in 2011, in the journal "Time-motion analysis of international and national level futsal." in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, futsal was said to be being played in over 100 countries around the world, with more than 12 million players.

Now in 2018, it is easy enough to read the FA Futsal Strategy and other articles banding around a figure of 60 million players worldwide! Now if this is true, then that growth is immense. Futsal has a bright future, and we hope to be part of that.

Futsal is recognised by FIFA and has its own official World Cup, taking place in the even year between the World Cup proper, with Brazil dominating the competition by winning five of the eight finals played since the first in 1989.

There are also futsal versions of the Champions Leagues and Copa Libertadores that take place every season, in recent years we have even see ex-Barcelona star Javier Saviola recently making his 100th appearance in UEFA competition in the former.

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