Futsal – The Adaptation Game

I have futsal on the mind.

A few passages from Alex Bellos’ book – Futebol The Brazilian Way of Life reminded me how futsal is a game of adaptation.

It’s manner of play certainly – the constant dribbles with the sole. Toe pokes to shoot, all marks of players adapting to futsal’s confined space. But this thread of adaptation exists in futsal’s origins too.

Alex Bellos explains how the challenges of nature and infrastructure created “drawing room” football:

The difficulty of maintaining full-sized grass football pitches in a tropical, developing country – the cost, the climate and the lack of urban space – has led to the sport being adapted to whichever terrain is available. The incessant modification of football is also the result of a society which is not hung up about changing rules.

Futsal also went through some peculiar rule experiments:

In some games, futsal players were not allowed to speak. Any utterance would result in a foul. Fans too, for a short period, were not allowed to make any noise. But the silliest rule stipulated that players were not allowed to play the ball while a hand was touching the floor. This meant that if someone was knocked over, or tripped up, he would avoid using his hand for support – since this would rule him out of play.

Futsal of yesteryear resembles backyard games you’d make up with your boys on a boring summer afternoon. A football version of Calvinball.

Even the most successful futsal region can be seen as an adaptive response to its circumstances.

The northern Brazilian state Ceará, dominated the Brazilian futsal scene for years, based on a lack of top flight, 11-a-side football:

A peculiarity of Brazilian futsal is the dominance of Ceará, a state in the northeast better known for untouched beaches, cowboys, Catholic pilgrims and droughts. It’s capital, Fortaleza, is the only one of Brazil’s eight largest cities that does not have at least two football teams that regularly play in the top division. Perhaps because of this, Ceará has put its energies into Futsal. Ceará is the state with the largest number of victories in futsal’s Brazil Cup. ‘I think futsal fitted us like a glove. The Cearenese is irreverent, he’s not interested in tactical systems, he likes messing about,’ adds Vicente Figueiredo. ‘Here people are more interested in futsal than football. All the big futsal clubs in Brazil always have a Cearenese in the team.’

Reading these few passages, it almost feels like futsal, not football, is Brazil’s national sport. The root elite Brazilian footballers grow from.

Brazil vs. Uruguay: A Snapshot

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Brazil sparkled early but faded to a draw against a resolute Uruguay led by the return of one Mr. Luis Suárez.

For a country in turmoil the atmosphere at the Pernambuco stadium was rocking. Dunga rolled out his 4-2-3-1 to Tabárez’s 4-4-2 and it was clear the early strategy was to release Willian on the right as often as possible.

It paid immediate returns when in the first minute Willian feinted towards the byline then cut back to his left, shredding Coates and whipping in a sweet ball for Douglas Costa to toe snap home.

When Brazil weren’t building attacks through Alves and Filipe Luís, Nike poster-boy Neymar, stylish even in uniform, with socks pulled past his knees, continually found opportunities to turn and swish past Uruguay’s center midfield pairing of Vecino and Arévalo.

The home crowd spurred on Brazil’s destroyer tandem of Fernandinho and Luiz Gustavo. Their ankle snapping presence unsettled Vencino and Arévalo who struggled to play into Cavani or find Suárez in the channels.

Brazil’s second goal included a touch of good fortune when a loose ball fell to Neymar’s feet. He took a few touches before playing a swift diagonal ball to his right for Renato. Pereira went to ground cutting out the pass initially before it bobbled onto Renato’s path, who dummied Muslera out of his gloves before roofing it home with his right.

Brazil were back!

Music blared, badges were kissed and cameramen focused on attractive women in the crowd.

Uruguay refused to buckle and responded through Arévalo picking out an overlapping Pereira wide left. Pereira dribbled past Willian with a calm nutmeg and curled in a cross for Sánchez who laid off a clever header back to a steaming Cavani to volley home.

Neymar and Willian each traded sombreros to keep the home support believing that yes, they were Brazil and despite conceding a softie would go on to win.

Suárez begged to differ, attempting an insane volley from distance. Though it soared harmlessly into the crowd, his ambitious attempt did stand to foreshadow his growing influence.

Brazil, like her fans, were lethargic at the start of the second half. Suárez continued to harass and agitate Brazil’s back four, jawing at Felipe Luís and pressing David Luiz at every opportunity.

Suárez was everywhere and it wasn’t a surprise when at last his runs in behind Brazil’s defense were rewarded. Carlos Sánchez’s pass took out three Brazilian players hitting Suárez in stride, allowing him to strike first time across Alisson’s weak fingertips into the bottom right corner.

The king had returned.

The only kink in his crown was when played into an one v. one with Allison he shot into the keepers foot. Allison totally redeemed himself as Suárez palmed his temples in disappointment, knowing he should’ve won it.

Credit must go to Óscar Tabárez for making the needed halftime adjustments. Neymar’s second half was snuffed out. Uruguay refused to allow him to pick up the ball and turn and dribble into dangerous areas around the penalty box.

No one in the sky blue shirts were exempt from these duties. Even Edinson Cavani acted as an auxiliary center midfielder when Brazil were in possession, shutting any possible trap doors of space Neymar might look to exploit.

Neymar adapted by dropping into midfield and distributing. Sure he can pick a pass, but Xavi he is not, and taking up deeper positions facing a Uruguayan wall of ten rendered him useless.

Dunga countered by bringing in Coutinho and dropping Augusto alongside Gustavo. It worked moderately well as Brazil became more fluid in their build-ups from midfield. Coutinho acted as an extra lock picker in the final third taking some of the attacking burden off of Neymar.

Coutinho did draw a solid save from Muslera but couldn’t conjure up any of his Liverpool magic to win the match.

This Uruguay team, while not the most technically accomplished, are built on a foundation of tactical cohesion and a pair of world class strikers who believe in the team ethos.

And though this is not one of the great Brazil teams, letting a two goal lead slip at home in a crucial World Cup qualifier can not be swept aside. If results like this continue their never ending presence at the World Cup may end.