From Triumph to Triumph: The New Zealand Futsal Whites’ Journey to the World Stage

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Estimated reading time:10 minutes, 9 seconds

Navigating Challenges, Seizing Opportunities, and Building Momentum


The New Zealand Futsal Whites recently achieved a remarkable feat by clinching a significant victory at the OFC Futsal Nations Cup. Not only did they retain the trophy for the second consecutive year, but they also secured their maiden participation in the 2024 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Uzbekistan. Their journey to this point has been marked by tenacity and skill, navigating the challenges of a developing futsal region in Oceania. Under the guidance of Head Coach Marvin Eakins, the team has overcome numerous obstacles to emerge victorious, showcasing their determination and talent on the court.

From Triumph to Triumph: The New Zealand Futsal Whites' Journey to the World Stage

New Zealand Football – Futsal Coach of the Year – Marvin Eakins – Source of the image: NZF Futsal

Eakins has played a crucial role in leading the Futsal Whites to this historic achievement. Following their triumph in the OFC tournament, the team embarked on a journey to Vietnam for the Invitational Futsal Series, where they faced off against tough competition, further refining their strategies and honing their skills. As they gear up for the World Cup, Eakins reflects in this exclusive interview on the lessons learned to Futsal Focus from these experiences, the progress of his players, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Main picture source: NZF Futsal Facebook page

FF: Marvin, firstly before we start the interview, congratulations on winning the New Zealand Football Coach of the Year Award, and congratulations again on the success of the New Zealand Futsal Whites at the OFC Futsal Nations Cup. What are the key takeaways for you and the team from this victory, and how do you plan to build on this momentum heading into the FIFA Futsal World Cup?

ME: Thank you, I appreciate that. Concern your question, important lessons from the Nations Cup were showing that we have made progress and that 2023 was not a fluke. Throughout the tournament, we were able to provide the full squad with good minutes on the court and this helped us learn about them in preparation for who is ready to play at this level and beyond. It was great to see us put a complete performance together against all the teams on the way to the title. Our team needs more internationals. Each time we play a game it provides the experience that our players do not get enough access to in any other part of the futsal environments. You cannot replicate playing for your country, especially with something on the line.

FF: Did you finish the tournament excited for futsal in the region?

ME: This question is hard to answer. The talent is in the region, but I do not believe that all the countries are fully committed to providing our players, coaches, and referees the best opportunity to develop. From my understanding, only New Caledonia has a proper national league that runs for 9 months. In New Zealand (NZ) our national futsal league is not much over a month long. This is not acceptable if we are taking the game seriously. The accumulated hours of games played by domestic NZ vs the rest of the players that have qualified for the World would be alarming.

I want the Oceania region to be strong, but the systems are not in place for talented players to reach their potential. The coaching standards need to improve across all the countries. The game is so raw in this part of the world and tactical futsal is very limited.

FF: The team’s participation in the Invitational Futsal Series in Vietnam provided valuable opportunities for growth and development. How do you assess the team’s performance during this tournament, and due to this experience, what adjustments, do you plan to make in preparation for the World Cup?

ME: It was so important to get these games against such quality opposition. Iran has now shown they are the best team in Asia which puts into perspective our performance against them. We are also frustrated with how we went. To compete at this level, we need to turn these games into wins. We showed our inexperience and naivety at times and were not clinical with the opportunities we had. We should have been 2 nil up against Morocco in the first few minutes. That would have led to an interesting game. It was clear that we could not yet put together a full performance against the opposition of this quality, but we have to be able to later this year.

I am our team’s harshest critic as although I think we underperformed we need to provide context. Our domestic-based players all played 10 national league games in 10 days and then flew to Vietnam that night. That’s not ideal preparation for any athlete never mind amateur athletes.

From Triumph to Triumph: The New Zealand Futsal Whites' Journey to the World Stage

New Zealand Futsal Whites v hosts Vietnam in Invitational Series

FF: Everyone wants to develop, watching the top nations you faced, and the coaches leading them, what do you feel you learned that can help your development?

ME: For me, some of the best learnings came from being courtside watching the other games. It was interesting to see how the other world-class coaches would interact with their respective teams. It was great to see the full picture and get some insight into the off-the-ball movement that you cannot see when watching streams. Looking at how the coaches tried to influence games at key points of the match through different tactics showed how amazing futsal is with the creative options that the other teams used to shake things up.

FF: Looking ahead to the FIFA Futsal World Cup, what are your expectations for the team, and what further preparations do you have in mind? Are there plans for additional friendly matches against teams such as Australia, Indonesia, or the Solomon Islands to fine-tune your strategies?

ME: We are going to the World Cup to get to the knockout stages. Once in the knockout stages you never know what can happen in one-off games. We need more games and hope to have more internationals in July as well as when we arrive in Uzbekistan early. A large chunk of the squad will also be playing in the World University Championships in June. A few options are available, but nothing is ever concrete until we have a contract signed. Regarding Solomons and Australia, we have been trying to play them for years now and neither has wanted or been able to play. At this stage, both of their styles of play don’t match any of the teams we might meet at the World Cup so organising friendlies with them would not benefit our preparation.

FF: As the World Cup draws closer, how do you continue to work on the development of both yourself and your players? Will the team be meeting regularly for training and preparation, and what areas of focus are you prioritising in the lead-up to the competition?

ME: The local-based players will be meeting every couple of weeks with a few camps in between. This gives us a chance to maintain what we do as well as much small adjustments. We are looking forward to the draw so we can start to look at how the opposition plays and what impact that might have on us. We believe in our playing in and out of possession but there are always improvements and tweaks to be made. It is no secret that we would enjoy converting more of the chances we create in future games.

FF: With the World Cup fast approaching, how do you plan to manage the expectations and pressure on the team? Are there specific mental preparation techniques or team-building exercises you employ to keep the players focused and motivated?

ME: Now knowing all the teams that have qualified we are the second lowest-ranked team. Expectations externally are minimal. Expectation is from ourselves as a squad knowing what a great opportunity this is and the positive impact that it could have on the futsal community in NZ. We need change in NZ and not performing well we make it hard to justify more investment in the game from those holding the purse strings.

FF: You have players in England and Spain, after this World Cup experience, do you have any ambitions of your own to coach a club abroad?

ME: Any coach that genuinely loves the game they are involved in would be lying to say that they didn’t want to challenge themselves further. I believe I have a unique coaching style that comes from a variety of influences in particular my assistant coach, Enrico, that has led to a unique style of play, especially in the defensive moment of the game. We look forward to showcasing that on the world stage, as we know, that if that happens, the team will perform well. To work in an environment where you get an actual futsal season and can prepare and solve problems game to game would only enhance what I already do on the small amount of resources we have access to. Ambition is important to me but New Zealand doing well at the World Cup and spring boarding the game to the next level is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. That is our number one focus right now.

FF: If you could choose your group in the World Cup, who would it be and why?

ME: Each time I look at the pots I realise that every group is going to be tough. In a way in would be great to be in a group of death and play against the best teams in the world. To help meet our goal of getting to the knock out stages avoiding the European teams in pot 4 would be beneficial. Beyond that we will just play what’s in front of us. If you were to force me to choose then I would go with Portugal, Panama, and Afghanistan. On the flipside, I would assume the other nations all want NZ in their group. I would recommend they be careful what they wish for.

FF: Beyond the upcoming World Cup, what are your long-term goals for the New Zealand Futsal Whites, and how do you envision the growth and development of futsal in the region in the years to come?

ME: This has to be only the start. We need to dominate the Oceania region going forward to keep qualifying for World Cups. Players need to gain different experiences not just through more internationals but by playing overseas in professional environments. Coaches also need to challenge themselves and find different ways to play the game and give it a good go at implementing with their respective teams. Referees need to be given more opportunities so that there is not such a big change in how the game is managed from our national league to the international game.

Resourcing has to improve across all parts of the game in NZ if we are to see real change and more consistent performances and results at the international level. New Zealand football has to show real leadership in giving Futsal the opportunity to be its own game and not just a side project of football.

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