Courtesy of FIFA.COM
The first record of an organised five-a-side brand of football dates back to 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay. The same year the pioneering football nation hosted the first FIFA World Cup™ at its brand-new Estadio Centenario, an Argentine-born coach by the name of Juan Carlos Ceriani, so tired of rain-soaked pitches and cancelled training sessions, brought the game indoors for the first time.
With an eye to making his new indoor game more accessible, but also more organized, he put together a set of rules strikingly similar to those that govern futsal today. The children of Montevideo took to the small-sided game with aplomb, and it was played in YMCA houses throughout the capital. The hybrid version was perfectly suited to either outdoor or indoor venues, as all that was needed was a small, basketball-size court.
While Ceriani was fostering the game Uruguay, a similar small-sided game was being played on the streets of Sao Paolo, Brazil.
The game quickly spread throughout South America as 'futbol sala' (room football, or indoor football) or 'futebol de salao' in Brazil - where the first local leagues sprang up like weeds.
Not surprisingly Brazil took to the hyper-technical, sometimes a claustrophobic hybrid of football better than any other. Today many of Brazil's greats point to a childhood full of futsal as one of the main reasons for their skillful ability. Ronaldinho, Pele, Zico, Socrates, Bebeto and countless others all grew up playing futsal, and credit the game freely.
It didn't take long for the game to spread to every corner of Latin America, and the first international futsal competition kicked off in 1965. And in a bit of a shock, it was Paraguay that got off the blocks best, taking home the first South American honors. Brazil won the next six Championships between 1965 and 1979. The yellow-clad pioneers of the five-a-side art then went on to extend their dominance with victories in the 1980 and 1984 Pan American games.
With a lesser number of players, a smaller field and a weighted ball, futsal demanded the emergence of new strategies. Quick feet and a quick mind were imperative, as was the use of the toes and the bottom of the foot.
The International Federation for Futebol de Sala (FIFUSA) was officially founded in Brazil in 1971. And the first Futsal World Championship (though not yet affiliated to FIFA) took place in 1982 in the five-a-side hotbed of Sao Paolo. Continuing their stranglehold on the game, Brazil again took the honors with a team studded with stars from the outdoor game. They then went on to repeat their winning ways in Spain three years later in 1985, before losing their crown in Australia to rivals Paraguay.
FIFA got on board in 1989, bringing the five-a-side game under its auspices and sponsoring the first 'official' FIFA Futsal World Championship in 1989 in Holland. With the new official tag, the name of the game officially became 'futsal.' Brazil also got themselves back on track and won the title twice on the trot (Holland 1989 and Hong Kong 1992)
In 1996 the Brazilians again took the world title, but four years later in 2000, Spain - Europe's emerging power - upset the South American apple cart in Guatemala.
Currently, on the cusp of challenging Brazil's long-term supremacy, Spain is not the only European team finding their way in the world of futsal. Russia, England, Italy, and Ukraine are all emerging as fine five-a-side purveyors in their own right.
With professional leagues popping up in Brazil, Russia, Portugal, Spain, Iran, and Japan, the old assumption that futsal is merely a means of developing creativity and skills to be used in the outdoor game is beginning to fade. The small-sided game is thriving, in its own right, on six continents.
Crucial for development
Futsal's role in fostering imagination and creativity to be used in the outdoor game is still crucial.
"Players in Brazil are better than Americans in general because they are more technically sound," current U.S. futsal captain and veteran of Spain 96 Sean Bowers recently told FIFA.com. "We (in the USA) are some of the best athletes in the world, but we really need to get that extra technical edge, and this is where futsal comes in."
Brazil and Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo pointed directly to futsal after scoring a brilliant, toe-poke goal against Turkey in the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002.
"Nobody expected me to do it," he admitted. "It's not easy to shoot the ball with the point of the toe, but it was just instinctive, and I owe it to playing a lot of futsal when I was a boy."