It took a while to reach the end but did not disappoint when it did. The Futsal Club Championship, India’s first foray into futsal, was to begin in 2020.
Of course, COVID-19 put the proverbial spanner in the works and the tournament was pushed back a whole year. And even in 2021, the tournament is still dealing with the effects of the ongoing pandemic.
Held entirely at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi, the first Futsal Club Championship was played behind closed doors.
The final saw a select few seated in the stands, but due to the Covid protocols in place in the capital, it was not packed. Of course, none of this stopped the players from going out there and giving it their all.
Delhi FC’s name will forever be inscribed in the futsal history of the country; Eventually, he won the first such championship. And they did so in emphatic fashion, beating Mohammedan Sporting Club 7–2.
⚡ Champions ⚡
, @Delhi_FC Who has won the Hero Fullsal Club Championship title for the first time?
MDSP 2️⃣-7️⃣ DFC
– Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) November 13, 2021
As champions, they will enter the 2022 AFC Futsal Club Championship, the equivalent of the AFC Champions League. Yet this tournament was about more than just determining that.
No, it was about starting something new and more importantly starting off right. In either sense, it is safe to say that it was mission accomplished for the officers.
a job well done
AIFF general secretary Kushal Das, who was in attendance, was certainly pleased with what he saw. “I think it’s a great start to the tournament,” he told Sportslumo after the trophy ceremony.
“Unfortunately, there was no audience due to the COVID-19 situation. Given that the Delhi team has won the tournament, I am sure we will have many fans here in the stadium. But I am very optimistic and encouraged by what I have seen.
Indeed, the Delhi team winning the tournament was remarkable considering the national capital’s lack of representation in the top flights of Indian football. But it was not just the Capitals – which also had Sudeva Delhi FC in the tournament – that saw good representation.
The likes of Baroda FC from Gujarat, Classic FA from Imphal, Mangala Club from Odisha and Speed Force FC from Telangana – to name a few were the sides that participated, that was also a plus.
This was highlighted by Sunando Dhar, CEO of League & Development for AIFF. “The best part was that 16 teams came from 12 different states,” he told this reporter after the game was over.
He said, ‘The tournament has reached the states, which is what we want. Futsal has great potential; It is fast-paced and action-oriented. I’m sure if we had a crowd here it would be fantastic, but obviously going forward it’s going to be bigger and better.
Indeed, for the historic first time in Indian football, the lack of a proper crowd felt wrong. However, it extended the spectacle to a select few present at the venue.
Futsal Club Championship – An inside look
It was easy to pick up on the players’ calls on the pitch, as the benches on both sides could be heard voicing their frustration when a decision went against them.
Coaches and players certainly don’t shy away from voicing their opinion to the officials. Yet perhaps the biggest selling point of this format is that it’s a little lacking in intensity.
A standard football game, despite its relatively short length, can often descend into sluggish periods. This is especially true when a team is winning by a comfortable margin.
However, this was not the case in the final between Delhi FC and Mohammedan Sporting. Delhi, despite being comfortably ahead, did not stop in search of goals. Despite trailing for a major part of the second half, Mohammedan did not let his head drop.
The fact that unlimited substitutions are allowed is also a bonus. Players were regularly switched in and out, ensuring both sides remained fresh and could play on the front foot.
Yet by the last few minutes, it was clear where the trophy was headed. Delhi FC stormed into a 7-2 lead in the game, with five of the goals scored by their charismatic captain Nikhil Mali.
Mali would end the tournament as the top scorer with 24 goals as well as win the league’s MVP trophy. It would not be surprising if a top football team showed some interest in signing him in the near future.
But that story another time. For now, the focus should be on what has been achieved – and what more can be done.
the road ahead
Given that futsal is a niche within a niche in the Indian context, it is safe to say that there is potential for growth. It also provides another platform for players who may have been waiting for their chance in the big leagues.
In fact, Delhi captain Nikhil Mali later told this correspondent that he was hopeful that an ISL or I-League club would have noticed his performance. Thus, futsal has the potential to showcase such players from across the country.
Of course, for this to happen, attention must also be paid to expanding the reach of the format. This of course means introducing it at the youth level and bringing it to the women’s game as well.
Asked if expansion plans are in the works, Sunando Dhar said that was the goal – although for now the focus is on this tournament.
“Ideally, yes (we will expand futsal’s reach to youth and women’s football). This is the first step we are taking, so would like to improve on this before expanding. But it is important for youth development and women’s sports.” It would also be an ideal platform for
“However, at this time the focus will be on making this tournament bigger and better.”
Only time will tell what will be the future of futsal in India. Although the beginning has been quite encouraging.