|For Four Days of the Intercontinental Cup, Greensboro was the Futsal Capital of the World
By Tim Sheldon
A writer for the Segovia al Dia website jested that Greensboro was the "Capital of World Futsal", and that writer, either jesting or half-jesting, was absolutely correct. For four days of the Intercontinental Futsal Cup at the end of June, Greensboro was capital of the Futsal world.
It was a phenomenal, unprecedented sporting event organized by Rob Andrews and Miguel Andres Moreno in cooperation with Spain's Liga Nacional de Futbol Sala (LNFS), which brought to the U.S. on those four days the best Futsal in the world, and, on a broader scale, the best soccer in the world.
"I was watching the UEFA finals and some of the other finals, and I thought that our tournament had the highest level of competition in the world," Andrews said. "It was equal to any of the tournaments."
In the championship final Sunday, Dinamo Moscow and Carlos Barbosa of Brazil were battling it out 1-1 with under four minutes left before a live USA Futsal TV stream and millions of viewers via Spanish and Brazilian television, when Nando touched the ball to his left and sent a left-footed rocket into the net to give the Russian club a 2-1 lead.
(Photos: Above, Fernandinho talks to press after winning tourney MVP award. At right, Dinamo Moscow celebrates. Below left, TV shot of free kick, with Dinamo in white and Carlos Barbosa.)
At that point, Carlos Barbosa gave the goalkeeper shirt to Rodrigo, sent him forward, and the flood gates opened. Tourney MVP Fernandinho quickly scored two goals on breakaways, and Nando broke free for the final goal to put the game away.
"Bringing the keeper forward was a difficult tactic to use against a team as explosive as Dinamo Moscow," Andrews said. "You're exposed, for sure. Dinamo is so amazing that when they go up a goal, it's like playing Duke in basketball and being down five points with eight minutes to go. You might as well be down five with eight seconds to go, because they lock it up. Dinamo is so smart. They just wait and take you apart ... Carlos Barbosa played an immaculate game until that three-minute mark when they let that goal in."
Give credit to goalkeeper Rennan of Carlos Barbosa, who deflected several 80-mph point-blank shots before he was replaced by Rodrigo. And credit also Gustavo, who did much the same in the net for Dinamo.
It was totally absorbing, action-packed match that was the best Futsal in the world on that day, with Dinamo Moscow Futsal being compared to Duke University basketball at the Greensboro Coliseum. You don't see that every day.
The game was played on a blue LNFS floor that was shipped from Spain.
"It was one of the official floors that they use," Andrews said. "They have two floors, and we got one of them. It is the same floor that was used in a previous Copa de Rey and other events. They use the blue floors for TV."
The six referees were FIFA-assigned and came from Uruguay, Panama, Peru and Mexico. All were from either CONCACAF or CONMEBOL.
Attendance was not great at the Coliseum, but it was still vocal, passionate, and laced with enthusiastic youth soccer players. Overall, they drew just under 6,000 for the tournament, with a little over 1,000 on Thursday, 1,250 on Friday, almost 3,000 on Saturday with most of the kids present, and back to about 1,250 for the Sunday final.
The concurrent youth tournament had about 500 participants who were on hand Saturday, but many of them had to head home on Sunday.
The participating teams themselves loved the tournament, Andrews said. "They loved being in an arena like the Greensboro Coliseum. It showed the future of Futsal in the U.S. as a top-level thing. For Futsal to make its introduction like that, they were all thrilled. They had all played in championships all over the world, and they had never seen an arena like that before."
The Greensboro organizers felt that they had two options: to go with the world class Coliseum and risk not filling it up, or go with a smaller, tangential arena that might make the crowd look better but would not reflect the world class nature of the sport. From the start they felt that they didn't want to introduce Futsal on one weekend and then have it followed at that location on subsequent weekends by a roller derby or some other inconsequential event. They wanted to put it in a venue where the Futsal Cup would be followed by major events like Taylor Swift and Bonnie Raito and later the ACC and NCAA Basketball Tournaments.
"That way we get in the cycle with those," Andrews said.
The special floor was installed by Felix Garcia of LNFS with the help of LNFS representative Ignacio Vicente Matos and Miguel Andres of USA Futsal. And while this was underway, Lisa Talbott was coordinating a very successful youth tournament that is sending U.S. representatives to the Youth Futsal World Cup in Toledo, Spain. El Pozo Murcia and Barcelona will be have teams at all levels at the Youth World Cup.
"We had a small team," Andrews said of his organizing committee, "but it was a very, very good team. When I look back on the tournament, I will remember it as the toughest field that ever existed in the tournament, but also I will remember the professionalism of the event as a whole with such a very small organizing team. Everybody had to be on their game, and they were, for sure."
The Coliseum had nets to hang at each end of the court, because it had hosted ice hockey in the past.
"We had to tell them how to do it, and they were able to put them up with the help of Coliseum operations manager Eric Smith," Andrews said. "We were incredibly pleased with his professionalism. He was there around the clock with us. Anything we needed to do, we would just call Eric. Nets, security, media. He wore a lot of hats for us. Game day ops. They have a lot of experience and host a lot of events."
Futsal is very similar to basketball logistically and fit in easily at the Coliseum.
"We followed the guidelines that were in place." Andrews said. "They had no previous experience with Futsal but used their experience with the ACC Basketball Tournament and NCAA Final Four."
It involved such things as coordination of locker rooms, getting water set up, moving equipment and setting up practice times.
"All that stuff was very similar to a NCAA Final Four setting."
The players liked the six-team format because it allowed them time off to watch matches. And while they were sitting in the stands they were mobbed by kids seeking autographs.
"The first night it was mayhem for Falcao." Andrew said. "He was sitting in the stands after the game and kids were running over to get just to him."
Soon, however, the fans learned who the other stars were and went after them as well.
"All of a sudden, the fans figured out that there are actually other players who really play at the top level. And Dinamo as a team has established a reputation here. Before they came, nobody knew who they were. Nobody knew anyone except Falcao, and now everybody has a broader understanding of the sport and who the major players are. They know Fernandinho, they know Venancio, they know Venicius, They know Je."
Je scored what may have been the best goal of the tournament, blasting a left-footed volley in the third-place game. It was a goal the fans will remember.
"That really set the game open," Andrews said. "The fans understand that this sport is not a game one person dictates. It's not just one guy putting on a show for your entertainment. It's a real sport, and it's very professional. When they lose there are tears, and when they win they go crazy."
Fernandinho was the tournament MVP and doubled as ambassador of Futsal to the kids in the stands.
"Fernandinho might have stayed 30 minutes after every game signing autographs. He signed every last one. Players were taking off their shoes at the end of the game and giving them to the kids. Falcao signed some kid's forehead. These guys were unbelievably accessible, and that helped the event more than anything."
It was generally a relaxed experience for the players off the court. Andrews said several told him that it was the only Intercontinental Cup where there were no issues in the hotel.
"At mealtimes, back and forth to the rooms. No animosity. Everybody was together. In the lounge, sitting around and relaxing. Players from all the teams talking. Brazilians and Russians side by side. Mealtime, everybody sitting in the same room. They said ordinarily that does not happen. Maybe because it was America, or because it was the level of the tournament. It was just a very special tournament."
The LNFS themselves had good things to say about the tournament.
They were very, very pleased with the professionalism," Andrews said. "Very pleased with the venue. It was the first time this event had ever been hosted in conjunction with another event. They were very, very pleased with that. They liked that crazy, I'll-do-anything-to-get-that-guy's-autograph atmosphere that started to show up and really, really helped get the tournament off the ground."
The TV feed came from Ken Neil of Alliance Sports.
"We're glad we decided to have it," Andrews said. "It came together at the last minute, because the Confederations Cup really caused a problem. It would have been a big mistake not to have TV for the finals, because they were so good. Je scored the best goal of the tournament, and we have it. We have the final, one of the best games of the year."
Overall viewship included Marca TV in Spain, which reached about half a million viewers, and ESPN-related coverage in Brazil, which reached millions.
What are Andrews and Miguel Andres going to promote next? The sky is the limit. It could be the CONCACAF Futsal Championship and possibly the 2020 FIFA Futsal World Cup.
"I don't see why not," Andrews said. "If we do get a World Cup it needs to be the catalyst for a professional league. There's no other reason to bring a World Cup here. That's bigger than me. Bigger than Miguel. Every single entity needs to get together and make this thing a reality. It would have to be an ambition of U.S. Soccer, or it would not make any sense to bring the World Cup. I have faith in them that when the time is right, like they did for the '94 World Cup, that they will bring the event and use it as a catalyst to start what we need to get started.
"... A lot is coming out of this event that is going to lead to a really cool 2013-2014."
That's the kind of thinking that made Greensboro the Futsal capital of the world.
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