The South African National Futsal Team Manager, Ebrahim Hossen, believes that the AFCON tournament is an ideal platform to introduce the sport to more South Africans. “Futsal is a growing code in South Africa and more focus and attention needs to be given to the sport going forward.”
Hossen, who is also the secretary general of the South African Indoor Football Association, is reluctant to make any predictions where the hosts will finish in the tournament, but he does acknowledge that the North Africans will be the sides to beat. “We will focus on one game at a time and treat each one as it is our last. [The North Africans] have very active leagues and have been playing this game for many years. Some of the powerhouses have players playing professionally.”
In contrast, Hossen's organisation launched a national league just a few years ago. “We are still amateur, but we plan to grow it into a professional league. One of the challenges that we face is finance as the league does not have a sponsor and is run with the funds SAIFA receives from the South African Football Association (SAFA) and the 2010 FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust.
”The league currently has seven franchise clubs participating, but we have plans to grow it into a 16-team league in the next three years, depending on sponsorship. We play a two-round league competition and a knockout cup.”
A new coach to suit ambitions
To give the national team the best-possible chance of making it to the World Cup finals in Colombia later this year, SAFA recently appointed experienced Portuguese Joao Freitas Pinto as national team coach.
Pinto previously coached Lisbon giants Benfica as well as Belenenses. His first duty as South African coach was to select a squad for the AFCON tournament, and he said recently that he can see the team poised to make strides. “I am excited to be working in South Africa. It is an important challenge for me and South Africa as a whole. The fact that South Africa is ranked number seven in the African Futsal rankings is a good beginning. I am sure that we will be ready to compete at the AFCON tournament,” said the coach, who is popularly known as JP.
After whittling the original squad down to 26, JP said he was very happy with the talent at his disposal. “The squad which we have trimmed down has some players with a lot of experience and many have been playing Futsal and five-a-side football for almost ten years. The talent they have is just unbelievable.”
South Africa's history in the AFCON tournament has not been outstanding. In 2012, when a World Cup qualifying tournament was held instead of the continental championship, they were beaten in the third round by Libya 10-4 on aggregate.
In 2008, they finished bottom of their group at the African championships, having lost three games and beaten Zambia, while in 2004 they were knocked out in the first round by Egypt, who thumped them 11-1 and 8-2. Four years earlier, at their first participation in the tournament, they finished fourth in a four-team tournament after losing all three games against Egypt, Morocco and Libya.