Win tickets to see the England futsal team take on Finland in Norwich this weekend
- Credit: "The FA via Getty Images"
The England futsal squad is heading to Norwich this weekend for two international friendly matches against Finland.
The UEA Sportspark will be hosting a weekend of futsal action, which also features two club matches, on Saturday and Sunday.
There will also be a local player in the England squad, with former Fakenham High School pupil Mark Croft one of the goalkeepers chosen for the matches.
The 21-year-old former Easton College student has played in the National League for Loughborough Students Futsal Club and was part of the England squad which attempted to qualify for this year's Fifa Futsal World Cup. Croft played cricket to county level as a youngster and played as a wicketkeeper for Fakenham and Swardeston before his studies took him away from Norfolk.
'I went to Loughborough to play cricket because it has a specialism for cricket but I ended up having to stop going down that road because I wasn't getting anywhere and my friendship group played futsal so I got into it from there,' said Croft.
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'Before I played cricket I played football and always wanted to be a keeper but I was too small. Futsal has smaller goals though so it was more achievable and I like it because it's a really fast, intense sport.'
England won all three of their preliminary group games in Israel last October, beating Denmark, Wales and Israel to win their group.
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However, they lost all three games in their main round group, to Ukraine, Hungary and Belgium, in Hungary in December.
Croft continued: 'So far I've been to Estonia and Hungary, Estonia for a couple of friendlies and then Hungary for the qualifiers. We're still a way from that level though because we're only about 10 years into playing it in this country.
'I've always dreamed of representing my country in a sport. Obviously the big dream was football but this is pretty close.'
The Three Lions face a Finland team who also failed to reach this year's tournament in Colombia, finishing third in their main round group – with Croft and Loughborough team-mate Tom Dennis the keepers in the squad.
The international friendly matches are being played at the Sportspark at 7pm on Saturday and 1.30pm.
Preceding each match will be the respective North and South Futsal National League play-off finals, with Bristol City facing Sussex in the South final at 4pm on Saturday and University of York taking on Cambridge University at 10.30am on Sunday.
Norfolk FA chief executive, Shaun Turner, added: 'It's fantastic to be able to host such an event as this in Norfolk. It's common knowledge that the county is fervent in its love for small-sided football and futsal is a growing format of the game which is becoming increasingly popular.
'We host two futsal leagues as part of our County 5IVES programmes, one at the UEA Sportspark and one at Great Yarmouth. Just last weekend we also held the annual Norfolk FA Youth Futsal Festival which saw over 30 teams across three age groups compete to go through to the regional competition.
'Futsal participation is continually growing throughout Norfolk and hopefully an event such as this, with world class players showcasing their skills, will inspire the next generation of Futsal players from Norfolk to take up the sport.'
England's matches are new head coach Mike Skubala's first since taking over from Peter Stugess as head coach and he has picked a 14-man squad.
Tickets for the games are on sale now, priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions. For more details, see NorfolkFA.com.
What is futsal?
Futsal is a five-a-side game played over 40 minutes, with halves of 20 minutes, which focuses on speed and skill, using a slightly smaller ball.
Up to 12 outfield players are allowed in a squad, to allow for regular rolling substitutions to be made, in a game which originated in South America in the 1930s.
Goals are similar in shape to a hockey goal (2m x 3m), with the size and shape of the goal often meaning space around the goalkeeper is high in the goal.
The ball is permitted to go over head height and kick-ins, corners and goalkeeper distribution are all restricted to four seconds.
Each coach is allowed one time out per half to speak to their players and teams are restricted to five fouls per half, with any subsequent foul resulting in a free shot at goal for the opposition from the 10-metre mark.
The Norfolk FA's County Fives programme runs futsal leagues at the UEA Sportspark in Norwich, Great Yarmouth College and Wymondham Leisure Centre. For further details, see NorfolkFA.com.