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  • Writer's pictureMatt Olsen

Miles Downie: Leading a Futsalroos revival and growing the pathway

Australian futsal placed itself firmly back on the map this month with the Futsalroos qualifying, in dramatic circumstances, for the AFC Asian Cup in Thailand next year. Front Page Football sat down with Head Coach Miles Downie to run the rule over the recent qualification and all the latest developments with the sport in the modern era.

Daniel Fornito celebrates Australia's opening goal against Chinese Taipei recently with his teammates. (The AFC Media)

Firstly, some background. It must be said that the recent tumultuous and troubled journey of Australian futsal is one many should know about to grasp just how significant an achievement qualification is.

Fresh off qualification for the showpiece FIFA Futsal World Cup in 2016, where Australia picked up three points, the game then essentially vanished and lost all its funding at the behest of a then undemocratic and uninspired Football Australia board. Circumstances are very different now, and to show it, Australian futsal's revival was placed into the mainstream with this qualification for the Asian Cup.

The tournament, set to be held in Uzbekistan next year, where futsal is a much-loved sport, is undoubtedly a pivotal step to the World Cup, marking Australia's first appearance in eight years. Since they were last there, also in 2016, the Futsalroos were quite successful, finishing fifth and thus qualifying for the World Cup in Colombia.

Australia have negotiated a change of happenings in the game and qualified in remarkable circumstances.

Although the start of the journey was relatively tricky, facing Asian champions Japan. They have grown the format immensely and are a country Downie knows well, having played futsal domestically there.

"It was unquestionably tough; they had a number of quality Brazilian ex-pats in the team that made the difference. The Japanese FA have set themselves up really well; they have a detailed plan until 2036, and they're well ahead," Downie told FPF.

As far as the result was concerned, Australia was never in the clash, losing 4-0.

"All things considered, I thought our performance was very good. You had moments that they capitalised on, a lot of chances, but I thought our ability to compete and create was good; there were things to be happy on, if not at all the scoreline," Downie added.

However, the qualification format, meaning two of three sides would progress from Group H, set up an evenly balanced fixture away in Taipei City to Chinese Taipei and would decide Australia's fate, irrespective of factors elsewhere. A solid performance following a sturdy lesson from Japan was enough for a spot at the Asian Cup. Downie knew the ins and outs of Chinese Taipei and came prepared, having been quite familiar with their Portuguese coach from his time in Europe.

"Chinese Taipei are an insanely well-structured team; their coach is a man called Adil Amarante, who has won a lot of domestic titles and set up the Benfica team some years ago. He wasn't there when they won the Champions League; he left just the season before, in about 2010, but this was all off the back of Adil's work," Downie said.

"They were very well organised, and [their] set pieces were fantastic. They were able to set up a lot of chances from the dead ball situation, and I think on the highlights, it looks as though they have more of the game than we did."

As for how the game progressed, it was an evenly poised battle. Despite Australia taking the lead in the first half, the tide turned to a 2-1 advantage for Chinese Taipei in the last five minutes of the same period. Downie highlighted how the great escape that followed, Australia scoring twice in a minute, resulted from precise decision-making.

"The margins are so fine, and I knew the game was going to go to [a] power play and that it was going to go down to the last few minutes to decide it," he said.

"We wanted to have players who could still function and operate if things weren't going their way, and if they weren't performing, just players that were mentally strong and players that could deal with the situation. If you watch the last five minutes of the match back, this certainly shows."


Australia celebrate their incredible feat after a long absence from continental action. (Football Australia)

Through this remarkable turnaround, Australia has qualified for the Futsal Asian Cup and is looking to repeat the scenes of 2016. With a stacked field of teams participating and going in as the 15th of 16 seeds, who can Australia expect to face, and what does their Head Coach believe will be the most formidable challenge?

"Going through it all, there are two sides in pot two that shape up quite strong, and another in pot three that are quite dangerous. Pot one teams will always be a challenge; the rest I would be quite excited to face, and even those stronger sides, when you have the opportunity to play them, it is awesome, right?" Downie said.

With the current revival set to take futsal to another level, we also wanted to discuss the administrative side of the game in keeping our eyes on another qualification campaign. Knowing Australian futsal's demise had occurred after the 2016 campaign, Downie gave insights into how the sport can rebuild and what would define a future legacy for national futsal, both as a successful football code and as a stepping stone for development.

"We all know it is an important tool to developing skills. I think to get the required funding here in Australia; it needs more formal recognition as that development tool for the traditional form of football, which it is to a degree. When I was playing in the national team, there was this young kid, Tom Rogic, who, as we know, went on to have a great career in football."

Downie's advice for governing bodies is clear regarding plans for the future: kids with a ball at their feet can flourish and learn in more than one environment.

"There needs to be a strategic priority here, within the football organisations; I am certainly pushing for that. When we look at how this development can happen, with alternative football pathways, we can grow so much talent with a diverse pathway. As well as this, we could also push for another new national league," Downie added.

Embracing the futsal pathway would undoubtedly be a big step for the game. However, in the short term, Australia will embark on an important journey. It's a journey they will make to impress on the continental stage and revive a significant aspect of Australian football, hoping to bring the days of futsal's rise back into the fold.

Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of Australia's national men's teams!


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