Gilligan confident of success at AFC Championships

The Qantas Futsalroos set off for the AFC Futsal Championships in Uzbekistan on Wednesday, with coach Scott Gilligan; confident his team can go all the way to the final and possibly win the tournament.

The Qantas Futsalroos set off for the AFC Futsal Championships in Uzbekistan on Wednesday, with coach Scott Gilligan; confident his team can go all the way to the final and possibly win the tournament.

To many that may sound somewhat overconfident given this it-s their first attempt at the Championships, but Gilligan believes the favourable draw can work in its favor.

“We have got a great run through the tournament and if we can make the final, I think we can win it,” Gilligan said prior to leaving. “I really do believe that.”

That will be a tough ask however, because if they get to the final, they will most likely have to meet one of the two teams that have contested the last four AFC Futsal Championship finals. Since the competitions inception eight years ago, Iran has won each tournament, the last four finals against Japan. That will not happen this year, with their groups due to meet in the other semi final.

The Qantas Futsalroos though, must first get past Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait and Lebanon in its three group games, with Kyrgyzstan seemingly the biggest challenger for top spot in the group. Only the top team will advance to the semi-finals.

“The key is the first game against Kyrgyzstan. If we beat Kyrgyzstan, I think we will surprise a lot of people and I honestly believe we can go all the way.

“Why (am I so confident)? Because that first game will give them so much confidence and they are really on a high at the moment after the qualifiers in Malaysia.

“If you talk to the players, they are saying it-s actually great to go away with an Australian team and actually win games and being competitive. It feels great and we want to keep that, so the winning feeling is still there right through the tournament.”

If Australia does get through to the semi finals it will avoid a possible clash with either of Iran or Japan. They will face the winner of Group A, which consists of host nation Uzbekistan, China, Chinese Taipei and Malaysia.

Gilligan though knows little of the teams they will face in their group matches.

“I have only seen results of the teams,” said Gilligan. “Lebanon has just recently played Iran in two preparation matches and were beaten 11-2 and 9-1, so that augurs well for us and Kuwait are roughly about the same as them.

“Kyrgyzstan is the great unknown, but just going on last years results, they made it through to the semis. They did have a favourable draw and I think they got beat 4-3 by Japan in the semi.

The qualifiers late last month in Malaysia, provided Australia with its first competitive internationals for 18 months (since the 2004 Futsal World Cup in Guatemala), and Gilligan has no doubts they will have taken a lot of confidence from there.

In the qualifiers they overcame Hong Kong and Korea Republic in close matches, which should augur well for the pressure-cooker atmosphere of these AFC Futsal Championships.

“Not having played as a team for 18 months since the World Cup, usually when you come to play the first international after such a long layoff it always those tight ones we lose,” Gilligan noted. “But the experience that the players gained from the World Cup and the fact we are a little more attack-minded, I think that really determined the outcome and winning those games.”

Gilligan has a core group of players from the 2004 Futsal World Cup to call on and the experienced gained at those championships will be invaluable in Uzbekistan.

“The guys that played at the 2004 World Cup realise the standard they have to play at and are definitely better for the experience. And because we are playing a more attacking style, the new guys have taken to it like a duck to water and really stepped up at the qualifiers.

“I am really happy with the way they are progressing,” Gilligan added with a great deal of satisfaction.

Asked what the strengths of the current team were, Gilligan had no hesitation in naming one player in particular for special mention.

“I think we have one of the best keepers in the world today in Gavin O-Brien,” said Gilligan. “He has certainly stepped up a class since the last World Cup and maintained that.

“Across the park though, we have a more attacking feel about our game. The last camp we just had, I was very impressed with players and that they are now more willing to take players on in the right situations, whereas before they were sort of scared of making a mistake and would pass.

“I think I have finally got through to them that it-s a team game and we have to create things; you have to try things and if you make a mistake you are only human. I am not going to jump up and down and yell and bench you, because that-s not what I am about. It-s about having the mindset to try something and if it works, it works.

“I think that is the biggest strength in the team at the moment”.

Asked how he viewed the development of the game in Australia, Gilligan is optimistic for the elite level, but would like to see more done at grassroots, as a pathway.

“Back when we participated in the first two World Cup tournaments in 1989 and 1992, we had a national Futsal league competition that was televised and we had many outdoor national league players and some players that had played for Australia, were playing Futsal. So the better calibre of player was playing the game.

“Now with no televised national league (indoor) competition and more players heading overseas, we are now getting the better State League player, but not the very top players. Obviously there is no money in Futsal and therefore no real incentive to play the game.

“However in saying that, I think the national squad is getting better. The speed and stamina of our players is getting a lot better. At the last two World Cups we probably only lasted till half time, with results fairly close up till then. But in the second half of games, we got smashed, because we weren-t able to maintain the speed and stamina.

“Now they are starting to get used to it and although the results indicate we didn-t win a game, we weren-t that far away. Against the Czech Republic, we were 1-0 down till the 34th minute and then copped a second goal and our heads went down. The third game against Thailand was close and we lost 3-2. I think we are getting better.

“At a grassroots level, I think we are definitely behind the eight-ball in a big way.

“Ideally what we need is to have a pathway similar to the outdoor, but at around the 13-14 age group we struggle to keep the better players, because they invariably go to play in elite outdoor teams and are attracted away from playing Futsal.

“I have no doubts up till then, we are developing players at the same level as outdoor, but the incentives in outdoor are so much greater and with no pathways at a national level and no national league we will struggle.”

That aside though, Gilligan is confident Australia can be very competitive within the AFC and with more regular and competitive international matches, our world standing will also greatly improve, starting with what he hopes is a successful first foray at the AFC Futsal Championships.

Australia-s group matches at the AFC Futsal Championship are:

21 May v Kyrgyzstan 23 May v Kuwait 24 May v Lebanon