The Futsal Landscape in Australia: Episode 7

‘From World Stage to Obscurity’ – 2012 -2017

After their commendable effort to qualify for the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup the Futsalroos traveled to Thailand where they met Argentina, Mexico and Italy in Group D.  Four members from the 2004 side – goalkeeper Peter Spathis, striker Danny Ngalufe as well as Simon Keith and Lachlan Wright, lined up for the Futsalroos.  The team’s top scorer at the AFC Futsal Championship, Daniel Fogarty, and captain Gregory Giovenali were among the key players making the trip.  Group D was one of the hardest to pick and all four teams fancied their chances of progressing out of the group stage.

The Steve Knight coached Aussies would first take on Italy who scored 26 goals and conceded just five during their five qualifiers, while Argentina finished second to reigning champions and four-time winners Brazil.  Mexico were making their first appearance at the tournament.

The Aussies were dominated by Italy at Nimibutr Stadium in Bankok going down 1-9.  They bounced back to defeat Mexico 3-1 three days later with goals to Seeto, Cimitile and Giovenali.  However a 1-7 defeat to eventual quarter-finalists Argentina dashed any hopes of progressing to the knockout stage.  Brazil went on to defeat Spain 3-2 in a thrilling Final.

In July of 2013 the Futsalroos made the journey across the ditch to compete in the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Invitational Futsal Championship.  The Aussies made it through the group stage unbeaten defeating New Zealand Invitational (9-0), Vanuatu (6-1) and Tahiti (2-0) to progress to the knockout stage.   After defeating New Zealand 2-0 in the semi-final the Futsalroos took out the championship after a solid 5-1 defeat of Malaysia. 

The Australian National futsal team was flying high and were confident leading into the AFF Futsal Championship in Thailand in October that year.  Australia topped Group B after defeating East Timor (8-1), Laos (17-0), Myanmar (4-0) and Indonesia (7-3).

Australia defeated Vietnam 6-1 in the semi-final however went down 2-1 to Thailand in the Final. It was a stellar performance to finish off a run of consistence results in 2013.

In May 2014 the Aussies headed to Vietnam for the AFC Futsal Championship where their great form continued. A 2-1 defeat of China, 5-0 win over Indonesia and 1-8 loss to world heavy-weights Iran was enough to finish second in Group B. The Futsalroos entered the quarter-finals with confidence however a shock loss to Kuwait (2-5) put an end to their AFC campaign. Japan took out the championship defeating Iran on penalties.

In September 2014 the Futsalroos returned to the AFF Futsal Championships held in Malaysia. The Aussies finished second in Group A after defeating East Timor (9-0), Brunei (13-0) and hosts Malaysia (3-0). They ended the group stage with a 4-1 loss to Indonesia.

Australia defeated Vietnam in a close encounter (4-3) before going down 0-6 to Thailand in the final to cap off another year of commendable international performances.

It was more of the same in 2015 where the Futsalroos finished top of the table and undefeated in Group B in the AFF Futsal Championship in Thailand.

Following a 6-2 defeat of Malaysia in the semi-final the Futsalroos were up against old foes Thailand once again in the Final, going down 3-5 to bring home another runners-up trophy.

Next came the 2016 AFC Championships in Uzbekistan in February. Australia finished second below Japan in Group D following wins against Malaysia (2-1) and Qatar (5-2) and a 3-1 loss to Japan. Considering Japan players were exposed to the professional F-League in their country the amateur Australian players performed with distinction. The Aussies went on to defeat Kyrgyzstan in the 5th place play-off followed by a 5-3 defeat of Iraq in the 5th-8th place play-off to earn a spot in the quarter-finals. Who should they meet? Thailand, their old nemesis. The Thai’s once again proved too good defeating the Futsalroos 6-1. The winners of the quarter-finals qualified for the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup with the losers having to fight it out for the last remaining qualification spots.

The Aussies defeated Iraq 5-3 and then went on to overcome Kyrgyzstan in the fifth place play-offs to qualify for the 2016 FIFA World Cup. Yet another great achievement for the Futsalroos.

The pinnacle of world futsal was held in Colombia in September where the Aussies were pitted against Brazil, Ukraine and Mozambique in Group D. Seven Futsalroos stars; Jarrod Basger, Daniel Fogarty, Gregory Giovenali, Angelo Konstantinou, Toby Seeto, Peter Spathis and Christopher Zeballos attended their second successive FIFA Futsal World Cup, along with veteran goalkeeper Angelo Konstantiou. The team also consisted of seven debutantes.

FUTSALROOS SQUAD for 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup – 10 September to 1 October

Jonathan BARRIENTOS (Vic Vipers), Jarrod BASGER (Baku United, England), Adam COOPER (Vic Vipers), Daniel FOGARTY (Inner West Magic), Gregory GIOVENALI (Dural Warriors), Wade GIOVENALI (Dural Warriors), Shervin KESHAVARZ ADELI (East Coast Heat), Angelo KONSTANTINOU (Inner West Magic), Dean LOCKHART (Inner West Magic), Roberto MAIORANA (Inner West Magic), Blake ROSIER (Dural Warriors), Tobias SEETO (Baku United, England), Peter SPATHIS (East Coast Heat), Christopher ZEBALLOS (East Coast Heat)

Coached by Rob Varela they started well with a 3-2 win over Mozambigue but went down 11-1 to Brazil and 3-1 to Ukraine. This marked the end of their tournament finishing third on the table. Argentina went on to defeat Russia in a historic final.

However, the end of the 2016 FIFA World Futsal Cup marked the beginning of the demise of the Futsalroos, left out in the cold by FFA after a shock announcement in 2017 that the Australian national futsal team would be forced to pull out of tournaments in a bid to cut costs. This was truly a dark time in Australian futsal.

The FFA confirmed reports they had totally cut funding for the Futsalroos, but said it was a necessary short-term measure. Players and staff were informed no money would be provided for the 2017/18 financial year.

And that meant the Australian national futsal team, which helped develop Socceroos star Tom Rogic, would not be able to compete in the AFF Futsal Championship in Vietnam in November or take part in qualification for the 2018 AFC Futsal Championship.

The FFA said: “Football Federation Australia understands the disappointment felt in the futsal community around the temporary suspension of the Futsalroos program for the 2017-18 financial year.

“This is a necessary short-term measure, taken reluctantly, and part of a much wider range of spending cuts which include staff reductions at FFA.

“These spending cuts in part reflect the cyclical nature of FFA revenue and are necessary to balance the FFA’s budget while also providing an increase in funding for the Hyundai A-League clubs and the Westfield W-League.

“The Hyundai A-League is a strategic priority for FFA because it is a key element in growing the commercial value of football in Australia.”

So just like that, after consistent performances on the international stage, the plug was pulled. It was devastating for the players, support staff and fan base. The shock waves were also felt around the country as grassroots clubs wondered how this decision would affect the sport. The action taken by FFA consolidated the views of many that the national governing body had a questionable commitment to developing the sport of futsal. Had the wheels fallen off? Would the Futsalroos ever return? Had this fueled the fire of discontent and fragmentation?

The situation was confounded when Football NSW made an announcement they would no longer be administering the national F-League which had just started to gain some traction as the top level of futsal in the country. With no national league or national team what was the future of futsal in Australia?

This paved the way for the emergence of substitute elite leagues across the country all vying to fill the void left by the now defunct F-League and the creation of a state of affairs reported on in episode 1 of this series.

Was the Australian national futsal team doomed?

Stay tuned for episode 8 – ‘Rise of the Phoenix’.