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The third edition of the UEFA Women’s Futsal EURO 2023 finals draw took place yesterday. Hosts Hungary, Portugal, holders Spain and Ukraine will compete on 17 and 19 March after winning through October’s main round. The event will be played at Főnix Arena, Debrecen.
Spain is targeting a third straight title, having won the previous editions in 2019 and 2022, both held in Gondomar, Portugal. The host nation finished runners-up in those tournaments, while Ukraine came fourth in 2019 and took bronze the next time out beating Hungary, 2-1. Hungary made their finals debut in 2022, ending fourth.
The tournament will again run as a knockout event, and the unseeded draw split the contenders into two semi-finals followed two days later by a third-place match and final.
The draw was made at Nagyardei Stadium in Debrecena, holders Spain will take on Portugal in the semi-finals while Ukraine has been paired with hosts Hungary.
Speaking with coaches, players and fans, many believe the format of the finals needs to be expanded to include more teams. Reasons given for this were that the competition is too short, and not attractive enough or marketed well enough to have the impact the women’s game needs. Others believe it has to stay this way, for now, until the nations below them reach the levels needed to compete with these nations hence why the same nations have secured their place year after year, except for Russia after 2019, the country isn’t allowed to compete in UEFA competitions at this time due to invading Ukraine. The concern is that by expanding the competition, the lower level of futsal, would present a poor product. Considering both arguments, I would have to go with the former, this is about building a marketing, exciting, entertaining, and sellable product, the question is, is the current model bringing enough value on the scale needed, I would argue, no it isn’t. Opening up the competition for another four teams wouldn’t impact the level too much and affect the entertainment. We also have to consider development, and associations need incentives to do this. The other nations might not be at the same levels as the top four but the games could still present exciting fixtures, and a nation’s participation in the finals of the competition could also encourage their Football Associations to invest more in the development of the women’s game. Furthermore, an established country like Italy which has professional women’s futsal along with developing countries like Finland, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands etc would benefit greatly due to public interest growing significantly in futsal. However, their participation would need the right marketing and PR support from the Associations as well.
Besides the senior tournament, there is also the need for an U19s EURO so young talent have the platform to improve. The question is which will happen first, an expansion of the senior women’s game or the establishment of an U19s competition. The likelihood is we will be waiting a while yet before an U19s competition is introduced.
Outside of international futsal
Besides international futsal, we also have the domestic game, and Women’s futsal, like the Men’s, is developing at different paces depending on the market, the highest levels in Europe would be Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Russia. In 2017, the first edition of the European Women’s Futsal Tournament was launched, this is an unofficial competition. The competition is organised and managed by the clubs and the host club, the first edition kicked off in Spain, the second was held in the Netherlands, and the 2019, 2020, and 2021 competitions where held in Spain. Last year’s competition took place in Italy. Every edition until 2022 was won by a Spanish club, Atletico Navalcarnero won the competition in 2017, 18, and 20, Jimbee Roldán won in 2019, and last year’s tournament’s trophy was held high by Italian club, Falconara.
After 6 editions, UEFA has yet to step in and launch a UEFA Women’s Futsal Champions League, their excuse could potentially be that Women’s futsal isn’t developed enough domestically. But, in the Men’s game, the UEFA Futsal Champions League formerly known as the UEFA Futsal Cup, when it launched in 2001, was predominantly amateur at the time, and still, this is the case for most European countries.
The likelihood, in my own opinion, is that the development of domestic futsal for women will be driven by the success of international futsal. The launch of the Women’s World Cup will test interest and set the benchmark for the work needed to make the product a success globally first, before, the domestic game gets the investment and attention it needs from FIFA, UEFA and the other confederations. UEFA will probably only expand the current UEFA EURO once a world cup is scheduled to take place as well. UEFA may also be hoping that international futsal such as their EUROs competition along with the World Cup will attract companies, sponsors, investors and entrepreneurs to support and invest domestically. I would say this has been their hope for the Men’s game as well. But, the World Cup has yet to be the needed boost for Men’s futsal, there are many reasons for this, examples being the poor PR and marketing by FIFA, the lack of marketing and promotion by the broadcasters who acquires the rights, along with terrible commentary at times by pundits who clearly don’t know futsal well enough which affects the quality of the product being broadcast. In relation to a UEFA Women’s Futsal Champions League, Men’s futsal had a Futsal European Clubs Championship, an unofficial competition, from 1984 until 2001. So with that in mind, the women’s game may have to wait a lot longer for a Champions League, if history is to repeat itself.
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