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The Joy of Six: toe-pokes in football and futsal | Jamie Fahey


It comes from futsal. No space? No time? No backlift? No worries. Boom. The toe-poke finish. Or toe-punt. Or toe-ender. Whatever the name – and there are plenty – its effect is felt before it is seen. As Stuart Dallas showed for Leeds recently, it’s a skill witnessed in “big” football all too rarely. So sit back and marvel at the beauty of this joyfully utilitarian act of predatory pragmatism.

O Baixinho (The Little One) led the line in more ways than one: first futsal-formed Brazilian to excel for Barcelona; most successful importer of the Chute de Bico (beak kick) to the 11-a-side game. Yes, Pelé and Rivellino used 1950s futebol de salão street smarts on the bigger stage. As did the next-generation seleção, the 1982 vintage of Zico, Sócrates and Éder. But it was Romário who seemed to steal every goal with a sneaky toe-poke. Up against Cameroon in the 1994 World Cup, the squat No 11 skipped free after collecting Dunga’s beguiling outside-of-the-foot invitation. Advancing with menace, he awaited goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell’s gamble-tumble before neatly prodding the ball home.

He repeated it against Sweden. With Thomas Ravelli in goal bewildered (check out his “What the hell was that?” face), the camera cuts to the selecão bench, where a 17-year-old Cruzeiro starlet wearing No 20 and “Ronaldo” on his back gawps in admiration. His day would come. This was Romário’s time. Six months after this Pep Guardiola-assisted toe-wonder for Barcelona (in a 5-0 clásico victory), he shot Brazil to glory. Johan Cruyff later anointed Romário the best he’d ever coached, declaring: “You never knew what to expect … his technique was outstanding, and he scored from every possible position, most of them with his toe.”

Ronaldinho’s capoeira-style pirouette, jig and shoot routine bamboozled not only Petr Cech but an array of lurking blue shirts and the 40,000 fans in Stamford Bridge. This was unadulterated futsal flair, brought alive for a new, astounded Champions League audience.

It carries no warning. With time standing still – like almost every Chelsea player – the only discernible movements are a young Andrés Iniesta flitting around like he did on the dusty courts of Albacete and Frank Lampard proving he could do it at both ends by arriving fashionably late in the box. The ball trampolines from one side of the net to the other before the referee signals a goal. Although Chelsea prevailed, it was the imperious Barcelona No 10’s night.

Ronaldinho’s artistic foundation on a futsal court got an alternative airing in the Joga Bonito Nike adverts the following year. Celebrated in these parts as one of a select few special goals, Ronaldinho’s dictionary-definition jiggery-pokery moved Daniel Harris to declare him the ultimate “confidence trickster”. Naturally, the Gaúcho boy master of the bola pesada (heavy ball) sees a different picture. It was just one of the “skills and understanding of the game” learned on court. Weeks later, he flaunted two more small-court manoeuvres, the sole control and toe-scoop, to pass the baton of futsal-formed South American style to a 17-year-old boy called Lionel for his first Barcelona goal.

Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima’s running shunt past the stunned Turkey goalkeeper Rustu sent Brazil towards another World Cup final. It also reopened the Chute de Bico debate. Genius street-court guile or unseemly foul play? Back in España 82, the Tartan Army’s feelings were clear as a chorus of anger greeted Jimmy Hill’s errant dismissal of David Narey’s toes-laces thunderbolt against Zico, Sócrates and Éder’s Brazil as a mere “toe-poke”.

It wasn’t, of course. But even if it were, that’s fine – especially in Brazil, where it’s lauded. So despite the BBC match report labelling the 2002 effort “essentially a weak shot”, Ronaldo O Fenômeno (The Phenomenon) was having none of it. The toe-ender is “the most famous” import from the futsal of his youth, he insisted. The double Ballon d’Or winner also hailed the man he applauded from the bench in Michigan’s Pontiac Silverdome eight years earlier. “It was a Romário-style goal,” he announced. Long since retired, O Fenômeno vowed in 2020 to put futsal – “quick thinking, speed, skill and control of the ball” – centre stage at the academy of Real Valladolid, the Spanish La Liga club he owns.

The toe of genius.
The toe of genius. Photograph: Ruben Sprich/Reuters

This glory-shot in the dying seconds sealed a 3-1 victory, with every goal registered by self-styled Brazilan futsal advocates. Barcelona’s Neymar grabbed Brazil’s first two after Real Madrid’s Marcelo had unintentionally toed one into his own goal. Oscar’s 20-yarder borrowed from the Ronaldinho and Ronaldo textbook, the unseemly power and minimal backlift leaving Croatia’s Stipe Pletikosa collapsing like an unset jelly tipped prematurely out of its mould.

“It was a Romário goal,” Oscar said, to less surprise than he’d inflicted on Pletikosa. “Most of us have played futsal, where you use the toe a lot.” Fifa placed it seventh in its World Cup toe-pokes top 10. Romário’s Cameroon punt is fifth. Ronaldo takes second. Curiously, first place goes to arguably the greatest World Cup goal of all time, Diego Maradona’s hands-free effort against England in 1986. The Joy of Six cries foul. Where’s the sense in defining a goal of such majesty by the 12th and final touch of a 10-second slalom of destruction? By this logic, John Barnes’s samba-style saunter in the Maracanã in 1984 enters the “six-yard tap-ins with the weaker foot” category. Madness. But decide for yourself.

The “Pelé of futsal” at his impeccable best. International goal No 338 for São Paulo-born Alessandro Rosa Vieira, known as Falcão, who retired in 2018 with a record 402 goals for Brazil. His greatest hits make compelling viewing. In 2012, the 34-year-old rescues the seleção at 2-1 to Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final. With six minutes left, he dumps the ball in the net with a swivel and caneta (pen, aka nutmeg), firing through a precise size-4 ball-shaped gap between defender Maximiliano Rescia’s legs. A more routinely audacious sole-control and toe-poke bullet in the final saved eventual champions Brazil at 2-1 down to Spain with three minutes remaining.

Such customary cunning defines the game in Brazil. São Paulo giants and 2020 LNF champions Magnus Sorocaba defeated Turabão in a Chute de Bico festival play-off semi-final: rising star Leozinho plus a 35-metre strike by Brazil captain Rodrigo. Naturally, Turabão’s goal came via Ferrugem’s toe-end.

Falcão in 2016.
Falcão in 2016. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Fifa via Getty Images

It’s not all about Brazil. Ricardinho is Portugal’s heir to Falcão as best futsal player on the planet, a man nicknamed O Mágico (the Magician) and labelled a hybrid of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, two of the many 11-a-side luminaries with childhood futsal stories. Ricardinho’s boomer, a minute into the 2018 Euros final against Spain, earns adulation for historic impact. Mirroring Ronaldo’s 2016 exploits, he captained Portugal to a first title despite hobbling off injured.

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This list includes edited extracts from Futsal – The Story of an Indoor Football Revolution by Jamie Fahey, which is published by Melville House on 1 July



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