When Wolves centre-back Max Kilman came on for his Premier League debut in May 2019, he made history — it was the first (and to date, only) time an international futsal player has appeared in England's top professional division. This moment highlighted the strong connection between futsal and soccer, and has helped boost the profile of the former, which is seen as an extremely beneficial sport when it comes to developing certain technical football skills.
However, many people still have a very limited understanding of exactly what futsal is and how a typical match is set up. What do futsal courts look like? What organised futsal competitions are there? And what are the main futsal positions? These are all questions we'll be answering in this article. We'll give you a brief guide to the sport of futsal and its key benefits, before further evolving your knowledge of the game by examining the primary futsal positions.
Futsal is a small-sided version of soccer in which two 5-a-side teams compete against each other on a pitch roughly the size of a basketball court (also called a futsal court). A hugely popular sport around the world, but particularly in countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, it gets its name from both the Spanish and Portuguese for "hall football" or "lounge football", ""fútbol sala", "fútbol de salón", or "futebol de salão".
The ball used in futsal matches is smaller than an ordinary 11-a-side match. Rather than being a standard size 5 ball, it's a small, size 3 or 4 ball with low-bounce technology and a slightly sticky surface designed to help make close control and passing as easy as possible. The pitch that futsal is played on is modelled on a basketball court, with FIFA (who are in charge of governing the sport on a worldwide scale) dictating that all international games must take place on a court that's between 38 and 42 metres long, and 20 and 25 metres wide.
The involvement of FIFA in futsal (which started in 1989, when they took over as the sport's governing body and held the first-ever FIFA Futsal World Championship) is a testament to how visible and influential the game has become. But what's behind its success? In order to show you, let's go through some of the key benefits of futsal.
Futsal is designed to give players the opportunity to practice and finetune more technical aspects of the game within a familiar, competitive setting that essentially condenses traditional football and makes it more compact and intensive. Specifically, futsal is extremely beneficial when it comes to improving technical quality and ball work — the lack of space on the court increases the importance of a sharp first touch, and an ability to receive and play the ball under pressure.
One, two or three-touch football is the norm in this sport, so alongside a great first touch, players also need to be able to complete short, intricate passes in tight spaces, and demonstrate the clever off-ball movement needed to make these kinds of passing triangles possible. All these skills are extremely useful in 11-a-side football, particularly in the last decade, when the broad-ranging influence of coaches such as Pep Guardiola has made patient, possession-based football the dominant style of play all the way down the football pyramid to amateur and youth level. As a result, playing futsal regularly can be extremely useful for improving elements of your 11-a-side game.
The benefits of futsal are evidenced by the long list of world-class soccer stars who have improved their game by playing the 5-a-side sport. The list includes Lionel Messi, Luis Figo, and Cristiano Ronaldo, who once stated: "the small playing area helped me improve my close control… if it wasn't for futsal, I wouldn't be the player I am today." You can find out more about the superstar players who grew up playing futsal here.
We've touched on the key facets of futsal that make it a unique sport, but you may be thinking that it still sounds pretty similar to ordinary soccer. However, there are a few important differences to make a note of. Futsal uses a smaller ball and is officiated by a timekeeper as well as a traditional referee and assistant referee. Games often take place indoors, too — although it's worth clarifying that it can also take place outdoors, unlike the similar sport of indoor soccer, which has to be played in an indoor setting.
The most obvious difference with futsal is the size of the pitch, which is much closer to a basketball court than a full-size soccer field (which according to FIFA regulations must be 110-120 yards long and 70-80 yards wide), and as a result there are also only five players in a futsal team, less than half the line-up of a classic soccer match.
Because of this, formations and team line-ups look very different to the classic 11-a-side formations we're used to seeing, such as 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2. Below, we'll take you through how most futsal teams like to line up, focusing on each position and explaining the key responsibilities and skills needed in each role.
We'll start at the back, with the final line of defence — the goalkeeper. Much like a typical 11-a-side goalkeeper, a futsal shot-stopper needs to be capable of making a range of catches and saves, with both their feet and hands. Quick reactions and reflexes are crucial, as is an ability to be commanding and issue instructions to outfield teammates (given the much smaller pitch, the need for this is arguably even greater than in 11-a-side football).
One crucial rule that affects the play of a goalkeeper is that they can only possess the ball for a maximum of four seconds, then they must release it to another player. This keeps the pace of the game fast and prevents any time-wasting. This four-second time count begins when the goalkeeper is "ready" to release the ball (eg. they're not still on the ground recovering from a save), and it pertains to both "hand and feet" possession, meaning any time the ball is at their feet counts as part of the four-second-rule. When they violate this time scale, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposition team.
One slightly confusing goalkeeper rule is that they are allowed to enter the opposition half (much like a sweeper keeper), and once they do, the four-second timer is reset. This is a loophole that allows them to keep hold of the ball for a little longer.
There aren't as many unusual rules to take into account here, as we move up the pitch to the defender. Typically anchored in a central defensive role (but often with plenty of freedom to move around the pitch creating passing angles and contributing to offensive moves), the primary role of a defender is to stop opposition players from scoring. They'll need to jockey and close down players, track forward runs and keep an eye on clever opposition movement, and interact closely with teammates to ensure a strong defensive structure is provided throughout each game.
Due to the small-sized pitch, defenders will often have more offensive responsibility in futsal, too. Usually, they will be utilised to help build attacks with passes from the back, however, they will also sometimes be seen dribbling forwards and taking shots themselves.
A key position, the pivot in futsal is very different to what we might call a midfield pivot in 11-a-side association football — these types of players will generally sit at the base of central midfield, completing mainly defensive duties, for example in a double pivot structure. In futsal, the pivot, also sometimes referred to as the topman or the forward, is the most crucial offensive player, the person who leads the attacking line. As a result, these players need to be sharp shooters, with clever movement off the ball, good footwork and dribbling skills, and the ability to link up with other attackers to ultimately provide the main goalscoring threat for their team.
A futsal team is completed by the wingers, who arguably occupy the most important positions in this sport. Situated out wide on the two 'wings', these players have both attacking and defensive responsibilities, and will be seen constantly running up and down the channels to provide attacking impetus and defensive support. They need to be quick, reactive, explosive, and of course technically proficient, with strong dribbling and ability on the ball, intelligent movement, sharp passing, and great awareness and communication skills.
Futsal teams can be set up in many different ways; a classic format would be 1-1-2-1 (goalkeeper; defender; left winger and right winger; pivot), but it's possible to shift things around, and regardless of how a coach structures their side there will always be plenty of fluidity. All outfield positions move around the pitch relatively freely in comparison with 11-a-side formations, although of course having set positions and formations can allow for stronger, more advanced tactical setups.
If you'd like to find out more about how formations and positional play can be used to gain advantages in soccer, we've got lots of articles on this subject. To stick with the theme of smaller-sided football, check out our guide to 7v7 soccer formations, which as well as explaining positions and formations, also dives into the wide range of soccer skills that can be developed using this form of the sport. Or for a deeper dive into the tactics used in full-sized football, take a look at our article on the most popular 11-a-side soccer formations.