Futsal may be on hiatus due to the global pandemic but that won’t stop Scotland’s top side mixing it with the best teams Europe has to offer.
Training for the Continent’s premier competition in the wind and rain of Perth hasn’t been the ideal preparation but national champions PYF Saltires head to Switzerland next month planning to cause an upset.
Last year Saltires made history by becoming the first Scottish side to win a match in the Uefa Futsal Champions League, seeing off Gibraltar side Lynx 5-1.
And the two-time national champions – awarded the 2019/20 title on an average-points basis after leading the SFL Super League when matches stopped in March – are targeting another huge step forward for the sport in this country.
With coronavirus impacting futsal just like any other sport, the format has changed this time around with a one-off tie instead of the normal four-team groups.
And this week, PYF Saltires learned their fate – a trip to the Swiss capital Bern awaits to face Futsal Minerva with a place in the last-32 at stake.
“Out of all the options we had in the draw, Futsal Minerva was probably one of the better ones, though it will still be a tough one,” says Saltires player/coach Kyle Ballingall ahead of the tie in a month’s time.
“We could have been going to Lithuania to play Vytis who are ranked higher so in that context we’re happy to be going to Switzerland.
“We are under no illusions how difficult it will be, however. We’ve not been able to get on court since the start of lockdown and have been training outdoors with the wind and rain so it’s not ideal preparation. We play an indoor sport for a reason!
“A lot of our boys play football at a good level, though, so fitness shouldn’t be an issue.
“It will be tough but the boys are just happy we’ll be back on court in some capacity. We’ve had messages from other players saying how jealous they are and can’t wait to see us in action.
“To be the Champions League as well only makes it better.”
Though the sport awaits the green light from the Government to allow indoor contact sports to return, recent years have seen major steps taken by Scottish futsal.
The national Super League will move into its fourth season when that green light comes while Saltires took the first European victory last year and the Scotland national team picked up their first point in European Championship qualifying history in February.
Ballingall, who started for the national side that day in Belgium, said: “Now the next step for clubs like ours and the national set-up is to be competing with teams like this in Europe and nations like Switzerland.
“Previously it was just about competing for Scottish teams like us in Europe but winning that game last year I think has broken down that barrier and taken the monkey off the back, if you will.
“We want to move to the next step now.
“It will be tough but, a one-off game, anything can happen.”
Ballingall, 25, added: “Usually we go into the four-team group aiming to beat the third seed and compete with the second seed. Minerva are in the second seed category so it’ll be tough but we’re confident we can do something.
“We believe we can compete, we know how tough it will be but we also know we have a good squad and go there confident.
“We don’t know too much about Minerva, to be honest. There are a few games online we’ve watched but our plan is to focus completely on ourselves.
“We have a few boys who were in the Scotland team who played Switzerland a couple of years ago in Bosnia. I was suspended that game but there were a few playing that day who we will come up against so we know the level.”
Saltires head to central Europe with largely the same squad that competed in Europe’s premier competition last year with the additions of Paul Simpson and former Alloa Athletic footballer Ahmed Aloulou.
— Scottish FA (@ScottishFA) December 5, 2017
With contact indoor sport not permitted by coronavirus restrictions, Saltires haven’t played a fustal match in almost eight months.
Even training inside isn’t allowed, though the Scottish Football Assocation, which governs futsal in this country, have asked the Government to make an exception in the Perth side’s case ahead of their big European date.
Ballingall, who spent a year as a professional futsal player at French top-flight side Nantes, said: “We have spoken to the SFA about our situation going into the Champions League without being able to do any training on court.
“We’ve been told they’ll be talking to the Government about it but I’m not sure anything can happen. It’s out of our hands to be honest.
“We’ve been training on astroturf at Kilgraston School in Perth.
“It’s been good when it’s dry but when it is wet it’s so slippy. We’ve been saying it will be like being in a foreign country going back indoor when you can actually turn without falling over!
“We started training on the grass back in the summer, just doing running and a few things socially distanced just to keep us ticking over.
“It’s not the same as the summer now – playing in the dark through wind and rain isn’t great prep.
“Minerva will be in the same boat as us, though – Swiss futsal started their season but closed down again after about a month because of coronavirus.
“We’re just happy to get some semblance of futsal after so long, though, and it will be a good test to will show where we are as a club right now.”
— UEFA Futsal (@UEFAFutsal) October 11, 2020