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Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Friday, 10 June 2011 15:06 UK

Manchester Futsal Club ready for national finals

By Nathan Middleton
BBC Radio Manchester

Manchester Futsal Club

Manchester has had some considerable success in football already this year, with Manchester United securing a record 19th league title and reaching the Champions League final, and Manchester City winning the FA Cup.

Now Manchester Futsal Club are looking to bring back even more silverware to the city when they play in the FA National Futsal League Grand Finals.

This weekend's finals involve the top two teams from the Northern, Midlands and Southern leagues competing not only to be crowned the best team in the country, but also the chance to represent England in the Uefa Futsal Cup.

Manchester led the Northern Division for most of the season, but lost the final game of the season 3-2 at Middlesbrough to finish second behind Sheffield.

A group with London-based Helvecia FC, who have won the competition three times, and Chippenham looks tough on paper but head coach Periklies Antoniou has confidence in his side.

"Our aim is to go there and play futsal the way we know how to play and to the best of our ability," he told BBC Radio Manchester.

"Our first game is against Helvecia, who've got the experience, but we are relishing the opportunity to have a right go at them."

The Football Association's manager for small-sided football, Simon Walker, says this weekend is a highlight for futsal in this country.

"The FA National Futsal League Grand Finals is the pinnacle of the futsal season and will be an outstanding exhibition of top-level English futsal," he said.

"Futsal is rapidly growing in England, the pace, energy and skill create an exciting spectacle for both the teams involved and those watching."

The game's origins date back to the 1930s in Uruguay and Brazil, where street versions of the game are credited with developing some of the world's most exciting players.

The 5-a-side game was officially recognised by Fifa in 1989 and uses a size 4 weighted ball to reduce bounce, and has unlimited substitutions.

Five-times World Cup winners Brazil appear to have gained the most benefit with players including Pele, Zico, Ronaldinho and Robinho crediting it with developing their individual styles of play.

The game places a large emphasis on technical ability, improvisation and creativity, testing players' talent in high pressure situations, but learning skills that can be translated into the 11-a-side format of the game.

Futsal is very much at an embryonic stage in this country with England only establishing a national side in 2003, meaning they were one of the last major footballing nations to do so.

The national side are ranked 88th in the world at the moment alongside such nations as Myanmar, Macau and Guam, but head coach Pete Sturgess says the establishment of the leagues will only benefit them in the long run.

Manchester Futsal
Eduardo Betancor (l) is the club's top scorer with 13 goals so far this season

"The establishment of these leagues has given the opportunity for players to play regular futsal at an ever improving standard and intensity," said Sturgess.

"This is crucial to the development of the game in this country and for the national side."

Manchester Futsal Club formed in March 2006 and have played in the FA Futsal League Northern Division since its inception in 2007, playing their home games at the Manchester Velodrome; the home of the GB cycling team.

Head coach Antoniou says you only have to look at continental Europe to see the benefits of the game, with current 11-a-side World and European champions Spain also a successful futsal nation.

They won the last Uefa Futsal European tournament in 2010 and have won two Fifa Futsal World Cups, finishing second in 2008 to Brazil and also have a professional league.

"When I'm looking at Barcelona all I think is futsal," Antoniou said.

"They pass the ball around with such ease, they're so sound on the ball technically and every single one of them knows how to use the ball with their feet.

"And that's because a lot of them have grown up playing futsal, it's within their academy structure.

"Barcelona also have a futsal team and I think next year they will be the best in Europe."

The FA National Futsal Grand Finals take place at Surrey Sports Park at the University of Surrey on Saturday, 11 June.

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