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Men and Women Flock to Play Scaled-Down Soccer (December 24, 2004)

A futsal pitch in central Tokyo (Jiji)
The popularity of futsal, a five-a-side version of soccer, continues to grow. While the number of futsal pitches and devotees in Japan is exploding, the national futsal team, comprised of Japan's elite players, competed in the 5th FIFA Futsal World Championship in Taipei at the end of November 2004. Prior to the championship, the Japanese team showed how much it has improved by splitting a two-game warm-up series against South American powerhouse Argentina.

An Accessible Way to Play Soccer
The 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan fueled the popularity of soccer - and, by extension, futsal - in Japan. Futsal became an ideal alternative for fans who, inspired by the World Cup, were looking for a casual way to play soccer in smaller numbers. At a maximum of 42 meters long and 22 meters wide, futsal pitches can easily be set up even in land-scarce Japan. Some tennis courts and skating rinks have been converted into futsal pitches, and pitches even appeared on the rooftops of department stores in such places as the Shibuya district of Tokyo and Sapporo. There are said to be some 300 futsal facilities throughout Japan, and as the number of pitches has increased, so has the competition to attract players.

Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of futsal, the Japan Football Association has adopted the slogan "Anyone can enjoy futsal anywhere, anytime" as it makes a concerted effort to organize and spread the appeal of the sport. In Europe and South America, many star soccer players first developed their talents through futsal or indoor soccer, so the growth of futsal also has the potential to create a pool of players from which future stars may one day emerge. In 2003, a futsal registration system for individuals was established. More than 170,000 people have registered, and there are estimated to be over 500,000 devotees of the sport nationwide. The appeal of futsal knows no boundaries of gender, and in 2004 the First National Ladies' Futsal Championship of Japan was held, with approximately 200 teams taking part in the qualifying rounds.

Japanese Team Makes Progress
In 2004, Japan's national futsal team competed in the world championships for the first time in 15 years, the previous occasion being when it gained entry into the first event in 1989 by invitation. Since then the Japanese team has lagged behind much of the world, but this time around it made it through the Asian qualifiers for the first time to earn a spot in the championship. In two warm-up matches against Argentina played in Chiba and Tokyo, the arenas were packed to the rafters with enthusiastic fans. After losing a close battle 1-2 in the first match, Japan pulled off a stunning 3-1 victory in the second before departing for Taipei.

At the world championships, Japan was shut out 0-5 by eventual runner-up Italy in the preliminary round, but came back with a strong showing in losing 4-5 to Paraguay and drawing with the United States 1-1. Though the team just missed qualifying for the next round, this year's world championships served as a valuable learning experience that is certain to bear fruit in future competitions. The development of top players is contingent upon expanding the sport's base while sustaining its popularity. With moves afoot to establish an elite domestic league, the sport of futsal may have finally taken root.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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