Sadly, Sweden's European Championship dreams was shattered even before the qualifying was over.

Sadly, Sweden’s European Championship dreams was shattered even before the qualifying was over.

Those of you who follow my blog may have noticed my increasingly clear interest in futsal. It is a very interesting sport from a coach perspective as well as from a spectator point of view. This post will be about futsal, namely the Swedish men’s national team’s European Championship qualifier, which started yesterday.

I wrote “started” but could just as well have written “ran out”. For that was how it felt – The qualifiers ended before it could even begin.

European Championship qualifying of futsal is divided into groups of three or four teams, which is devoted to a weekend to play qualifying games in a host city. Sweden found itself in a group with Gibraltar and Montenegro. The group winner would advance to the next qualifying round, known as the Main Round, so in practice, neither team can afford a loss if the European Championship dream is to survive.

Yesterday evening, Sweden began their European Championship qualifiers against Montenegro, a team that the day before won with 8-1 against Gibraltar. Montenegro has a similar ranking as Sweden, so there are two equal countries in futsal, but the scoreboard was anything but fair. The game ended 11-4 to Montenegro, and Sweden’s dream of playing the first championship died after only 40 minutes of effective playing time.

How could it end like this, that a team with the ambition to take themselves all the way to the European Championship, so monumentally failed to reach the goal after just one game?

Sure, the qualifying system is tough and offers little room for error. You can practically be disqualified after a game, which is a big difference from many other sports when it comes to qualifying stages. In football / soccer, you often have the chance to correct your mistake later, but there are fewer qualifying games in futsal and thus less room for slip. Do you have a so-called bad day (although I dislike the term), all your goals can go to hell. It is part of the explanation.

Another explanation is the actual performance itself. Charbel Abraham, the coach, said afterwards that the poor performance stung more than the result. If Sweden lost a tight game against an opponent who is in a similar ranking position it is of course nothing to be disappointed about, but I think everyone reacts about the fact that Sweden so miserably failed with everything they had in mind. 11-4 are large numbers, one of the largest in the (short) Swedish futsal history. Abraham had been quite right that Montenegro is not a good team, but Sweden played poorly.

What was it that Sweden failed with in the game?

Since some time, Charbel Abraham has worked to make Sweden to play “a modern futsal, as they do on the continent”. I have long been a bit skeptical about this. Who says that the way they play futsal in Europe is our way to reach success? It is difficult, if not impossible, to copy another country’s philosophy and just paste it at our business. The best way is to pick several pieces of the cake so that it suits us. I believe that Sweden plays a kind of futsal we do not really feel comfortable with when we play against tougher opponents.

Sweden with Abraham tries to play a futsal where we control the game, with a kind of high press and play with a so-called high risk. It is all right if we have player types for it, but in yesterday’s qualifier, it was clear that we do not have these kind of players. Several of Montenegro’s goals was because we lost the ball in our build-up and they counter attacked. Montenegro could simply lie low in their defense, waiting for mistakes from Sweden and aim for the goal. An “ancient” kind of tactic that Charbel Abraham said “works in the domestic league, but not internationally”. Talk about getting a taste of their his own medicine.

As a coach, I think this: When you’re facing opponents who runs home, you need to create a lot of movement to pull them out of position and play where the space is. Several times was Sweden with the ball, not knowing where they would pass it, because the movement was non-existent. When the players were moving well, they were often reversed! How are they going to do something with the ball if they do not face the opponent’s goal? Another tactic would have been to shoot from distance to lure them out of their positions, but it was also scarce. In the second half, when Sweden desperately tried to catch up, they tested a joker game that did not end well. Has Sweden even practiced on this? A key rule for a coach is to never do anything in the game that you have not even been practicing before, but the players felt lost and desperate in the joker game.

I know that many have been critical to the national team selection, and perhaps rightly so, but I do not believe that Sweden had received a substantially better results with other players. Would we have brought in other players, we should have tested them earlier, not in an important European Championship qualifier. Abraham talked about that he wanted players who knew the tactics and can play according to the idea, the thing is just that it was the wrong tactic… I simply believe that Abraham’s idea needs to be corrected to fit our Swedish players. This is how we achieve success.

Sweden have missed their chance to go to the European Championship. The next championship is the World Cup in 2020. Time to try a new coach perhaps, with new ideas and a coach who can customize the idea for the players at hand? I know that many have talked about to bring foreign influences into Swedish futsal, but the question is whether we can afford it. Even though they invest in Swedish futsal, the development is still going slowly, I’m one of the few hundred who even has attended a futsal coaching course. It says a lot about the quality of the coaching education.

I have nothing against Charbel Abraham, but Swedish futsal must evaluate the work so far and see if it really is the right path we should go to reach success.

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