Columns Estêvão Cordovil
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Futsal in the Gulf - New Horizons

The latest news circulating with regards to futsal come with an array of limitations. Countries among the Gulf region are putting their best foot forward to grow the beautiful game of futsal, despite the hardships encountered with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Federations in the Gulf region are capitalizing on the growth of futsal, in a joint effort, to promote the sport and its positive contribution to the evolution of football in their countries.

In his third column for FutsalFeed, Estêvão Cordovil discusses the current state of futsal among the Gulf region, during the pandemic, both at the national and international level. How do Head Coaches envision the future of futsal in the GCC? To help us answer this question, coach Cordovil asked four national Head Coaches of Gulf countries to analyze the futsal situation in their country of work. Head Coaches in question are:

Abdulraouf Almarzooqi, United Arab Emirates Head Coach since 2018

Lino Gomes, Bahrain Head Coach since 2019

Luis Fonseca, Saudi Arabia Head Coach since 2019

Ricardo Sobral "Cacau", Kuwait Head Coach since 2018


We thank the aforementioned National Team Head Coaches for discussing with us the development of futsal in their respective countries. Various coaches within the Gulf have valuable input with regards to futsal’s current status; however, these coaches do have a vast array of history with futsal within the GCC. We now go in-depth with what they have to say with regards to the limitations at hand with futsal in the GCC.

What is the current situation with futsal in your respective country?

Abdulraouf Almarzooqi (UAE) - “In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) there are two divisions in futsal which are the Senior Division and U20 Division. There are 10 teams within the senior division and 8 teams in the youth division. In the senior division, there are five competitions played which are comprised of the League (with playoffs), Presidents Cup, Emirates Cup, Etihad Cup, and the Super Cup. There are two competitions within the Youth Division which are the League and Presidents Cup.“

Abdulraouf Almarzooqi - UAE National Futsal Team

Lino Gomes (Bahrein) - Futsal started in Bahrain a few years back; we currently have the Senior Division which includes the League with play-offs, the Cup (which is played among the top four teams of the league) and the Super Cup (contested between the champions of the League vs Cup)”

Lino Gomes - Bahrain National Futsal Team

Luis Fonseca (Saudi Arabia) Saudi Arabia is currently growing the game of futsal and has a first division comprised of 16 teams and a second division which is played during a week of competition. However, there is substantial opportunity for growth as there are currently only a few professional coaches/players aiding the learning process.

The current competition is comprised of the League, Cup, Super Cup, and a U20 League which is in the works with its own respective League and Competitions. The rules implemented are identical to those in the Asian Competitions, with many of the competitive rules being based on football rules such as the accumulation of (3) yellow cards followed by a (1) game suspension. This projects a culture of football onto the court.” 

Luis Fonseca - Saudi Arabian National Futsal Team

Ricardo Sobral “Cacau” (Kuwait) “Futsal in Kuwait is improving. All clubs have high-level coaches like Ramiro Diaz with Kuwait Club, a coach who has great experience having worked in Italy and Spain. Tiago Polido with Kazma SC, a coach from Portugal who is doing excellent work and has worked in Italy.

The clubs in Kuwait have invested in great professionals such as Marcos Soratto (two-time world champion), Victor Acosta with Al-Arabi SC having worked with Nagoya Oceans and former champion Split FC in Croatia. Clearly, Kuwait clubs have invested a lot in high-level foreign professionals. Clubs can now play with (2) high-level foreign athletes to improve the level of the game within the league.

With all of this in mind, the Kuwait Federation has been achieving growth in the game of futsal. It is also important to value the work of Hussein Habib at the National level, the U21 team is currently training with renowned Brazilian coach Renan Franklin, formerly with Magnus Futsal. Kuwait is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, there has been a government order which canceled all youth competitions. Overall, Kuwait has improved in its organization and with a stronger league.”

Ricardo Sobral "Cacau" - Kuwait National Futsal Team

Estêvão Cordovil: Since my arrival in Qatar in 2012, I perceived that countries have made an investment in improving their internal competitions bringing top foreign coaches and players, to accelerate the growth and experience of the players, also improving coaching courses and education of coaches, and creating youth competitions.

Sports is undoubtedly one of the social phenomena that can have the greatest impact on public health, not only in stimulating physical health but by the direct practice and promotion of practice, but by the ability to occupy free time in a healthy way, allowing an improvement of mental health.

Has the pandemic greatly affected the situation of domestic competitions and national teams? How is the country currently doing?

Abdulraouf Almarzooqi - “The pandemic has affected competition, but the Country has managed it very well. The league has continued as of September [2020] and everything was under control with safety protocols in place. In the new season, we finished playing two competitions (Etihad Cup and Emirates Cup) and are now playing the league, so far we finished only the first round of the league.

The Youth League has commenced, also with the completion of the first round. The federation alongside the government is supporting the clubs by providing PCR tests 72 hours prior to each match”.

Lino Gomes - “Yes, very much so! As with all internal competitions, training has also been interrupted. In the case of the national futsal team, after qualifying for the Asian Cup, we held a camp in Barcelona, Spain in preparation for the Asian Cup. With the arrival of the pandemic, came changes to the competition dates, interrupting our work and our programming.

Overall the country is coping well with the current situation. For the most part, everything is still operating, with great caution, and following all safety protocols and preventions imposed by the Ministry of health and the government.”

Luis Fonseca “The pandemic affected us as it did everyone all over the world. The lockdown led to changes in the futsal calendar causing suspensions to international competitions, which was undoubtedly one of the worst moments ever for our sport. With the evolution of the situation, we managed to end last season's competitions with a compressed adapted model. In a week’s time, the new season commences.

The work of the National Team has been greatly affected. The dates of the competition have been changed twice and a potential change is currently being discussed. This will have a negative impact on the game of futsal in these countries with all the sacrifices and investments made. In regard to the country, it seems that the Pandemic is more controlled than in most of the world, perhaps due to the climate, the measures taken by the government, or other details. The number of cases has dropped and administration of the vaccinations has begun, let’s hope it can help.”

Ricardo Sobral "Cacau" “The Pandemic affected us a lot, with the cancelation of several camps and canceled friendly matches. With the airport closures, our players went 10 months without competing or training futsal. We had to adapt our work via Zoom with individual training. These circumstances were not only felt by Kuwait futsal but futsal all over the world.   

We hope that now with the vaccine we can recover lost time, and come back stronger. With 2020 in the past, recovering all international competitions, friendly matches, and FIFA dates in 2021.

The League is currently in its sixth round, with fans being permitted to spectate in the stands, with public health protocols. Players are being tested prior to play, quarantine of foreign players upon arrival. Currently, the national team is not training at all, athletes are 100% with their clubs to compete and give continuity to the League as we cannot play friendly matches with the national team, due to travel restrictions both departing and arriving in Kuwait."

Estêvão Cordovil: Of course, the pandemic also affected the Gulf countries, but they managed to be less affected for various reasons as: Younger age pyramid, higher temperatures; less dependence on tourism; less dependence on proximity-based cultural activities, bars, nightclubs, etc.; gender separation; clothing culture ensuring protection, religious procedures such as hygiene before prayers; ability to close the countries with more restrictive rules on the first wave; opening of free test centers in drive-thru format among other medical procedures eventually facilitated the fight against the pandemic more successfully than other areas of the Gulf.

What investments have been made by the country in regards to futsal?

Abdulraouf Almarzooqi - "The futsal in the country is growing through the investment. They are going to support Local Coaches to grow in Futsal by providing them with Futsal courses. Also, supporting the clubs with great foreign coaches such as Padu, Rui Guimaraes, Pablo Prieto (a great Spanish coach from whom I learned a lot), Marquinhos Xavier with Sharjah club (now a Brazil National team coach with last five years as best awards coach in the world by FutsalPlanet awards) and also Marcos Sorato. Personally, he is my futsal idol. He did quite a lot during his time in UAE, and he is the one who taught me so many things and supported me always.

Futsal grew here quite a lot with these coaches. Local coaches have been growing and learning. Finally, the Committee of Futsal configurations in UAE is investing in young and Senior players, coaches, competition, National Team and is trying to make significant evolution in Futsal in the Region."

Lino Gomes – “As I have already commented, it's been a few years that futsal started in the country (Bahrain) and it's growing! Improvements in the league and inclusion of the basic categories are already on the agenda.

The main investment is being the construction of the exclusive sports hall for the national futsal team, which is in progress. Inauguration is expected at the end of this year. Not to mention, all staff, camp, etc...”

Luis Fonseca “Since we arrived, it must be recognized that the Federation has invested, in the national team staff of 4 coaches plus the translator. The Federation has improved on daily fee payments for players to improve the work with the support of our experience and knowledge. Not only for the national team but also for the internal competitions, financially supporting the clubs and awards. Right now, it is necessary to recognize that there is still a way to invest. The Federation is trying to do its part to grow the game of futsal.

Whether evolution is expected or not, it will delay because, as with any hierarchical structure, decisions take time to be made. If they let us organize everything - what would take four years would then take two. Because of the restructuring of internal competitions, definition of the main category and Under-20 national team camps. Now we are dependent on a short group of players who play for a long time in the national team and even if they are young, they are involved with honor to represent their country. But in a country as large as this, if futsal were more professional the evolution would be much faster.”

Ricardo Sobral "Cacau" “The Government through the Ministries of Sport has helped a lot all the professionals who arrived. The Football Federation supported Futsal and Beach Soccer, fundamental for the sustainability of the sport. The development of futsal in Kuwait is getting better and growth of new players is the focus. The support that the Federation and Government have given to the clubs so that they can grow together - not only the League, but also the level of Kuwaiti athletes.

The development is on a structured basis and young players at the start of the league, and in the first year, sustain the continuity to evolve. Kuwait has done this very well, and I am very pleased with the six rounds of the league so far. We have seen high-level games, we have seen new players appear and this is pleasing me a lot.”

Estêvão Cordovil: The countries have bet on coherent development, not only by letting themselves be advised in the technical area but seeking solutions replicated with what the best countries in the world adapt to their realities, each building a model of development that guarantees a path of coherent growth in the short - medium and long term. There has been not only a great investment from the Federations and coaches, but also from players trying to sustain an increasingly professional growth with great impact on their personal lives.

How has the preparation been made and how do you analyze the country's possibilities for the Asian Cup?

Abdulraouf Almarzooqi - "We are working on qualifying for the next Asian Cup. I think with this level of determination at work, we have a good chance and possibility for it. Then we need to think about the next step."

Lino Gomes - "At the moment, in the current situation, I believe that the preparation has become difficult for all countries, because of the pandemic and so many undefinitions. But we need to adapt and reprogram. We are in a very balanced group, where everyone has possibilities!"

Luis Fonseca "The preparation of the Asian Cup was what we considered almost ideal. It was a preparation where we would count on all the players regardless of their jobs. We would perform internships outside the country, competing with countries of good and important level, adapting to the level of what we hope to find ourselves, relative to our possibilities. We are 4th in a group where Iran and Thailand are, and on our level is South Korea.

To give the surprise would be something very pleasant, but for this we would need to improve the internal competitive level. Having high-level professional coaches, professional players, to raise the level, because now players compete only with themselves, with few additional stimuli. When the competition improves, the level of everyone involved rises. Now Thailand and Iran are starting as favorites, not just for the group, but for the Asian Cup, and we must compete against these two experienced teams. Of course, we can't forget South Korea, which right now has an individual quality like ours, not mentioning tactical, strategic and preparation issues.

It is a pity for all these changes in the Asian Cup scheduling and that anyone could think of the possibility of canceling the Asian Cup, electing the participants for the World Cup based on a ranking... Countries that have invested and worked much less than us, but which have another weight and attraction for the AFC could reach the World Cup. In my opinion, an effort should be made to respect the work done by teams so far, to hold the Asian Cup and to decide on the playing ground the 5 positions that lead to the World Cup!"

Ricardo Sobral "Cacau""We started the work in August. We made an excellent preparation until the Asian Cup date change. Our plan schedule will stop the league at 30 January for the League and on 4 February we restart the national teamwork with a tournament in Dubai, friendly matches against Dubai, Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Iran. We have a very good schedule, so we can make a great result on Asian tournament. We dream a lot about being able to return to play on the World Cup.

I'm here for two and a half years, and we go into the third year now. I am very pleased with the growth of our players and I trust very much that my team and I will make a great Asian championship. I have no doubt that we will fight for something important, with definition as soon as possible by the AFC, whether in Kuwait or anywhere else - we will be prepared. Competition could be played around June or July, when I believe that possibly all will have already taken the vaccine. We need this Asian Cup to be confirmed because many countries have invested more than three years for that moment.

It would not be fair to choose by ranking the travelers for the World Cup. We have to play the competition. We know that the pandemic has affected many countries, but from now to June or July we can have the time to change the date to play the tournament and that we decide the winners fairly on the field. It is my desire that 5 national teams deserve qualification on the field, and we will be prepared to play and represent the country well!"

Estêvão Cordovil: As can be seen, the investment in futsal in the Gulf is coupled with great interest of these countries reaching the world top and being present in the World Cup. Respect for the work and investment done is fundamental for all countries to believe that it is worth it.

With various solutions on the table: positive comeback experiences made globally in sport and competitions, with the number of vaccines and production increasing daily, the increasingly practical and low-cost testing, the possibility of holding the competition later, or even changing the competitive model to a qualification for the World Cup, the solution can combine some of the above proposals and seems to be something with a very low price compared to an administrative solution based only on the unfair ranking of countries.

Futsal in the Gulf is growing, the Federations that have bet in the right direction and with short, medium, and long-term planning will surely be an exponent of this sport as soon as possible.

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Estêvão Cordovil


Estêvão Cordovil


Estêvão Cordovil, is currently an assistant coach of Saudi Arabia National Team, former Kuwait National Team and C. F. Os Belenenses, Sassoeiros and AAUTAD (Portugal), Kaos Futsal (Italy), Yarmouk (Kuwait), Jaish (Qatar).

Master in Futsal Game analysis - Team Sports, currently PhD Student in Futsal Sport Science 
Futsal Courses - Associação de Futebol de Lisboa, CEFAD, One Sports
FutsalFeed, Futsal Science and Conditioning, Sports Training Blog, Zona Técnica
Ex Collaborator
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