On the eve of the tournament, Eakins, who is also the Auckland Football Federation’s Futsal Development Officer, gives his thoughts on the path to the World Cup and the progress of futsal in Auckland.
How do you feel about facing such a gruelling schedule of five games in just five days?
“So the format is for three games in three days, and then a rest day for everybody, before two more games. Dealing with that is going to be important for all the teams and it is going to be difficult for us because we have always struggled with the heat in Fiji. We have prepared for this more so than in the past by spending a weekend in Australia last week in over 40 degrees heat.”
What will the team’s goals be in Fiji?
“There is only one real goal and that is to win all five games because obviously it will take us to the World Cup. Because it is just a round robin competition, it is in our hands to do so – anything less won’t matter because we won’t be going to Colombia then.”
In the first game you are facing Vanuatu, a team you beat comfortably in July last year. Are you anticipating another straightforward victory?
“No. What will happen is that any team we are facing will raise their game against us because we are New Zealand. Vanuatu have just employed a couple of Australian coaches who will be working with them in preparations that will be a little more organised. Vanuatu is kind of like a sleeping giant, they are very skilful, very fast and very strong so with the good coaching they might be surprising a few teams but hopefully not us.”
Which of your opponents do you consider to be the biggest threat to your qualification for the World Cup?
“I would probably say two teams will stand out. Over the last four years or so, Tahiti have really raised their game and they have been taking their qualification seriously. We have been struggling the last few times that we have played against them. Historically, the Solomon Islands are the team to beat, they have been to the last two World Cups, and it is no secret that they have some really talented players that on their day can cause a lot of problems, so those two teams will be the biggest threat.”
With the Solomon Islands grabbing the last qualification spot prior to the 2012 World Cup, do you reckon this will be your time to qualify?
“Yes. The preparation that we have had this time has been ten-fold better than what we had for the last two campaigns I have been involved with. And I also feel we now have the players to put the Solomon Islands away.
Who do you consider to be the world’s best futsal player and why?
“Maybe a year ago I would have said Falcao, the guy from Brazil, he is unbelievable and you do not have to spend too long on YouTube to see what he has done for the game by making it very popular. But at the moment I think it is Ricardinho, who plays for Portugal. He is right up there now with Falcao and is probably even a little bit better at the moment.”
Do you think the development of futsal is moving in the right direction in Auckland and what are the priorities for 2016?
“Yes. It is a slow grower in Auckland and there are obviously lots of opportunities for everybody to be involved in a variety of sports, plus they have a lot of football school commitments. But around the country it has just been taking off and we are starting to get some traction here. I think that success in getting to the World Cup would also help boost the game in Auckland and across the country. So there is almost a little bit more that hinges on the New Zealand team doing well to help keep growing the game here. At the moment, I think there is a long way to go in Auckland. Many of the players are still learning the game and are not natural futsal players yet – a lot of them have come from football and are learning the game week-in, week-out. I think that in three or four years we will start to see some of the best futsal players coming through Auckland and getting into the New Zealand teams and will also start to get some professional players around the world.”
How do you think the national futsal team has developed over the years?
“I have been involved since 2008 so have had eight years of seeing how it has come along. I like to think that, if this team we have got now could play the 2008 team, it would be an absolute walkover because of the way that we have come along. It is down to a lot more coaching while Scott Gilligan coming across with his expertise as the New Zealand coach has made a big difference. The national league being set up in New Zealand has made sure there will be quality futsal played more times a year, so that has helped us to develop. We also played ten internationals of futsal last year, which is pretty impressive, and every match has helped us in getting better.”
What is the biggest difference from when you first started playing for the national team to now?
“I think the biggest difference for me is the amount of quality players we have in the team. In previous campaigns, we have not always had players that could stack up to the international level but now I trust every single player that is in this team to be able to rise to the occasion. That’s the same for the players that have just missed out on the squad, so we have got a lot more depth in the team and that is pretty exciting because we have never had that before.”
Story courtesy of Auckland Football Federation