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Belgium futsal story: Hope for better future!

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Belgium, the „head“ of the European Union, and also known as one of the traditional futsal countries, was also one of the guests at the U19 Futsal Week Poreč cup.

We had a talk with their head coach Tim Vergauwen, a former striker who has 86 appearances for the Belgian national team, in which he scored 44 goals. He also participated at 1 World Championship and 3 European Championships.

Tim Vergauwen & Karim Bachar took over Belgium senior and youth squad in the mid-December 2019, after the previous first coach Luca Cragnaz suddenly became the head coach of the best Belgian futsal team Halle Gooik.

„The Belgium federation didn't have time to appoint a new coach so they asked the staff of assistant coaches to take it over for the time being until there’s a new solution. Now Karim, Edward Bzdak, Guy Beckers and I are in charge until there is a new solution. It’s a pity that Luca left because he was doing a great job with the national squad and with the organization around it. On the other hand, Halle Gooik is a great club who practically every year wins the title so we can understand his decision. A combination of the 2 jobs is prohibited by the union but with Karim Bachar, we also have someone with the necessary experience and expertise”.

Belgium futsal team U-19

His debut as the head coach of one of the national teams was in Poreč (Croatia), at the beginning of January. Belgium Under 19 team has participated in Futsal Week Winter Cup U19, eventually finished last with the victory against third Slovenia, and three defeats against Hungary, France, and Turkey.

„It is a completely new generation. Since I recently took over this team and I met the lads a few days before the tournament, we had to adjust quickly. For example, in the first match against Hungary, we dropped the 3:0 advantage and eventually lost the game. The goals we have conceded, were not from their good game, but from our mistakes“, sad Vergauwen and continued:

„The guys are good, they have lots of individual quality with my captain Imrane Achalhi as an exponent, but they are still young, still have a lot to learn. Experience is the keyword. It is important to make small steps forward, after each game, after each training. As the tournament progressed, the better we looked. At the end of February, we have two friendly matches against strong Portugal, the goal is to make further progress by then“.

Tim Vergauwen Belgium futsal coach

When Vergauwen played futsal, Belgium was one of the best European countries, they finished third on European Championship 1996. Seven years before that, Belgium ended fourth in the first FIFA Futsal World Cup, they lost in semi-finals to Brazil after the penalties and a match for the bronze medal against the United States after the overtime.

Belgium ended fourth in the first FIFA Futsal World Cup, they lost in semi-finals to Brazil after the penalties...

Nowadays, Belgium is 32nd in the Futsal World Ranking, far away from the biggest futsal competitions…

„We were one of the best European teams back then, proof of this is the bronze medal our generation achieved on the EC in 96. But, futsal has strongly developed since then generally, and it stagnates in Belgium, says Vergauwen.

 

Situation is improving

However, the situation is improving. After the Euro 2014 played in Belgium, which wasn’t a success for the team but was a big success in the organizational aspect, the Belgium Football Association started investing in futsal. They started to promote this sport in schools and established a “Master Plan program” through which they select the best young players with several detection trainings.       

We also started with a ladies futsal team. There are also plans to construct an indoor futsal site in Tubize, the national seat of the Belgian federation, where Hazard & Courtois also train. Like I said, the necessary steps have been taken, what is the merit of the union, but we have to have patience now”.

...There are also plans to construct an indoor futsal site in Tubize, the national seat of the Belgian federation, where Hazard & Courtois also train!

„When I was young, I played football on the field in the top division in Belgium but it was forbidden to play futsal simultaneously. It was bad for me because I preferred futsal. I always used to say that soccer was my hobby but futsal was my passion! Back then, the clubs were against futsal. But, the mentality is changing, especially within the youth categories. The clubs with a modern vision are more open now towards futsal, most of them have incorporated futsal into their training process or have established connections with some futsal clubs to share knowledge“.

So, how do Belgium players decide whether they want to play football or futsal?

„For lots of players it is difficult to combine futsal and football, but a lot of them do. Of course, most of them choose football over futsal when they have a chance to get in the 1st team since there is a lot more money in football. But, if they do not succeed, they can play simultaneously football in lower Belgian leagues and futsal in the top division”.

And what about a Belgium league system?

“Well, it is a strange situation. Belgium has two futsal federations, the official Belgium one and the Flemish. In my opinion, this situation hinders the progress of Belgium futsal. There is always a “fight” between those two federations, and they should work together. It can be the first step to improve Belgium futsal, to have one federation, to have one league, and all the best players in one place. In that way also sponsors can centralize their investments. And the level will only improve that way in my opinion…”

Tim Vergauwen Belgium futsal coach

The most dominant team in Belgium futsal is Halle-Gooik, a club founded in 2004 that has won the last five national championships and last three years they played quite good in Elite round of UEFA Champions League, having achieved four victories against the best European teams.

“We can say that they are the only fully professional team in Belgium, with a great vision and organization. They have the biggest budget, hence the best players. But for me their most important asset is that they constantly reinvent themselves. On the one hand, they are an example, on the other, it is a problem since there is not a big competition in the league. They win all the time”.

“Besides Halle-Gooik, Belgium has two well-organized clubs, FT Antwerpen, which has a great youth development program, and Charleroi. Other teams are not so competitive”, Vergauwen explains.

After football, which is logically the most popular, Cycling is the second most popular sport in Belgium. What about futsal?

“It is popular among young generations but, to be honest, not as much in the general population. We are still perceived as an amateur sport, the games are not broadcasted on national television, we do not have a big sponsor. The FA is investing in promotion, but futsal always comes last. We are hoping that the situation will change in a positive way, as it has changed in Belgium female football which gained popularity in the last few years”.

 

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The situation is, however, improving.

“After the European Championship in Belgium 2014 the situation is improving, but it is going step by step. Recently, we did not have youth national teams. Nowadays we have official U19 and U17 squads, the principle of the Master Plan program. The Belgian national football coach and technical director Mr. Roberto Martinez is a very big promotor of futsal since he is from Spain and he played this sport when he was younger. He is a very big support for us”.

The Belgian national football coach and technical director Mr. Roberto Martinez is a very big promotor of futsal since he is from Spain and he played this sport when he was younger.

Finally, let’s talk about the senior team… the qualifications for the UEFA Futsal Euro 2022 start shortly, at the end of January. Belgium is playing against Montenegro, Armenia, and Scotland and the tournament will be held in Belgium. What are the expectations?

It will be a tough qualifying round with Armenia, Montenegro & unknown Scotland but we will be aiming for the first place. We play at home and have the ambition. We just played the Netherlands last Sunday in a friendly game where we were heading 1-3 deep in the 2nd half. Unfortunately, we drew 3-3 at the end of the game but we put some extra confidence for our qualifying week”, said Vergauwen in the end.