Until I started teaching in Japan I have to admit that I had never heard of this form of football, and I even thought the students were making mistakes and that futsal may have been a Japanese-English word. It’s relatively unknown back in the UK but is popular in the likes of Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Japan.
Futsal has similarities to five-a-side football, and is something I’ve been meaning to go and experience for quite a few years now. The F. League is Japan’s top league for the sport, and having spurned a few chances to see that in recent times I finally saw an opportunity when the JFA Japan Futsal Championship quarter finals were taking place last Friday.
Komazawa Olympic Park Gymnasium in Setagaya-ku was hosting the 28th version of this tournament and so I decided to cycle down that way from the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Itabashi-ku. It took just over an hour and not knowing exactly where the gymnasium was I just headed for the Athletic Stadium which was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
It turns out the gymnasium was opposite the stadium and so I ended up parking my bicycle right outside which is convenience at its optimum.
Tickets were available at 3000 yen for an arena seat or 1500 yen for the stands. I purchased the latter and then as I went to enter I noticed that this was the same building which housed a collection of Olympic memorabilia and exhibits downstairs.
The JFA Futsal Championship trophy was on view nearby for photo opportunities.
I chose a seat level with the halfway line and it wasn’t long before the first of four matches kicked off (at 11:00 am) with Nagoya Oceans in action who are the most decorated team in F. League history with 15 F. League titles and six JFA Futsal Championships to their name. Basically they have reigned supreme for all but one year in the history of the league.
Futsal consists of two twenty minute halves with time stopping at every dead ball meaning that it takes about 45 minutes to play each period. Kick-ins are used instead of throw ins. Unlimited substitutions on-the-fly means it is quite difficult to keep up with who is on the court unless its the goalkeeper being sacrficed for an extra outfield player. More on that later.
The first match for me was really just about getting used to the rules and adjusting my mind to this type of football. Watching it all did bring back memories of occasionally watching six-a-side Masters Football on TV and when I played five-a-side football myself in Hull (UK) in 2000 where many of the matches were very much in the graveyard shift with 11pm kick offs a fairly regular feature which was not so good when you had to be up early for work the following morning!
It was actually a much tighter game than the scoreline suggests but as it wore on the F. League champions took control and a few of the goals were scored late on as Borkbullet Kitakyushu (I still have no idea what the meaning of borkbullet is?!!) threw everything at trying to get a goal or two. The fifth goal was a beautiful chip from the Nagoya number six Oliveira Arthur who stood out as much as for his style of play as his big beard and bald head!
Final Score: Nagoya Oceans 6-1 Borkbullet Kitakyushu
The second match between Pescadola Machida and Shonan Bellmare kicked off at 1:15 pm and was a better game and atmosphere with the Bellmare ultras in the corner section in loud voice. Talking of corners, the tactic for this part of the game seems to be for the kick to be hit towards the player who tries to volley it into the goal as Paul Scholes memorably did for Manchester United against Bradford in 2000.
The Bellmare goal lived something of a charmed life as chance after chance just did not get converted by Machida who were the better team. However, Bellmare scored three goals on the break to put the game out of reach.
Foreign goalkeepers seemed like the order of the day (based on the four teams I saw!) and the most exciting part was the tactics towards the end of the games which heavily involved the goalkeepers. As aforementioned, the goalies are often switched in and out of play as the teams trailing chase the game in the closing minutes.
The Machida goalkeeper (below) was probably more than a sweeper-keeper, and inevitably when he’d been switched for an outfield player the Bellmare goalkeeper Fiusa collected the ball and kicked it down the other end into an empty net to make it 4-1.
Whilst I am unlikley to watch futsal again anytime too soon I would be happy to go again one day as I did enjoy watching this form of football which is essentially the same but also very different!
Final Score: Pescadola Machida 1-4 Shonan Bellmare
- My ticket did entitle me to watch all four quarter final ties but I decided beforehand that two would probably be sufficient enough so I made my exit after the Bellmare win. The following game between Tachikawa and YSCC ended 2-2 with the latter winning on penalties. The final game of the day saw Fugador Sumida beat Bardral Urayasu 5-1. In the semi-finals Bellmare beat Nagoya on penalties and Sumida saw off YSCC. The tournament winners were Sumida who beat Bellmare 2-1 in the final.
Click here to read ‘The “Other” Olympic Museum In Tokyo’
Click here to read ‘Blind Football World Grand Prix 2018’
Click here to read ‘Interesting Japanese Playground Structures #28 – Pig Park’
Click here to read ‘Foxed In The Head: Cycling To All Inari Shrines In Tokyo’s 23 Wards – #21 Setagaya’
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