9 Feb,2018 By jagabond
This past weekend was Super Bowl Sunday. Americans celebrate this tradition by putting the New Year’s diet on hold, while washing down thousands of bad food calories with cheap beer. In past years Super Bowl fever overwhelmed me. Then something happened…I got older and the allure faded with age. I never knew how much, until I found myself rejecting American football in favor of the Futsal European Championship in Slovenia.
So…what the heck is Futsal?
Good question. I looked it up after I already bought tickets, so I really took a chance. Futsal is a five on five variation of a soccer match. The sport is basically an indoor alternative to traditional football. Nations with harsh winters benefited, as footballers could keep in shape during the off-season. The ball is filled with foam instead of air. This makes it denser and bounce more closely to the ground. Coupled with the small playing surface area, game strategy is thus more reliant on individual players and their superior ball-handling skills. There is also no offside rule nor stoppage time.
The Euro Championship
My trip to Ljubljana coincided with their hosting of the 2018 Futsal Euro Championship. This tournament only began in 1996, and Spain has taken the trophy seven out of ten times. I purchased cheap (7 euro) tickets for the fourth row, center section at the Ukraine versus Portugal match. Interestingly, politics played a part in the Euro this year, as both Ukraine and Russia made the tournament. The dividing of teams was intentionally altered to minimize their chances of facing one another. I took my seat just before the national anthems, and anxiously awaited the opening whistle.
I’m not sure who was favored, but Portugal was dominating early. The sport is so similar to football, and few would argue that Portugal has one of the best football squads in Europe. Before I really knew what was happening, Portugal scored for a 1-0 lead. Right before halftime they added another goal. The team in red was blowing out the team in yellow! The Portuguese were chanting their approval.
Then something happened. The goalkeeper for Portugal, who was having a great match, fell on his leg in a weird way. I took a picture just at the moment, and you can see it below if you look closely.
He was close enough to me that I could hear him moaning in agony. His back-up came in and quickly showed why he was on the bench. Over the next ten minutes of game action, Ukraine’s offense was in attack mode and knotted the game at two apiece. As the Portuguese goalkeeper was struggling, his Ukrainian counterpart was heating up. Shown below, this guy was yelling at his teammates, the officials, and anyone else who got in the way. He had a demeanor reminiscent of Ivan Drago from ‘Rocky IV’, and injected some much needed life into his team.
In the end, however, Portugal simply had better players. I captured the go-ahead goal on video, and they would score two more on the way to a 5-3 victory.
I also commend the female dancers (given the totally non-creative name ‘Ladies Dance Team’), and the weird looking mascot for providing entertainment during pauses in futsal action.
Compared to a traditional football match, futsal definitely has more action and scoring, but is lacking in tradition. Judging by the smallish crowd size, this is still a young sport in Europe. There’s something epic about an outdoor football match that the indoor environment can never capture. That being said, I was entertained. Congratulations, Portugal!
The real Super Bowl
As I drifted in and out of sleep following my long night, I couldn’t help but check the online scoreboard. Eagles win, Tom Brady doesn’t…fly, Eagles fly!