They may be the side to beat going into this weekend’s finale of the Futsal National League but Southern United coach Darren Hart insists his players are not feeling the pressure and are taking their bid for the title one step at a time.
In what has proved to be a highly-competitive league, the southerners are in pole position with a six-point lead at the summit but nearly every other team is also still harbouring hopes of glory as the season wraps up in Auckland with the ‘National Travelling Series – Northern Division Hosting’ at ASB Stadium in Kohimarama.
The series takes place over the next two days and will be swiftly followed by the semi-finals and final on Sunday but Hart says Southern’s thoughts are yet to extend that far.
“Throughout the whole season, we’ve tried to ignore the league table to a certain extent,” he says. “It’s a situation the players are probably not used to but we’ve not made a big thing of it. We’re very much focused on playing the first four games, getting the performances we want and then going from there.”
The man in charge feels the key to Southern’s success has been as much to do with what has happened off the court as on it.
“Futsal has had its issues with funding and bits and pieces in the past but this year the CEO at Football South, Chris Wright, and the new direction we’ve had with pulling all the teams under the Southern United banner have had a massive impact,” he says.
“We’ve managed to fund a lot more activities, have training camps, more trainings a week and all those kinds of things. It’s allowed us to demand a lot more of our players because we’re offering a lot more in return.”
Southern United futsal coach Darren Hart
The on-court key has been the free-scoring nature of Southern’s attack, which has struck a remarkable 68 goals – nearly double that of second-placed WaiBOP. A hefty percentage of those have been scored by the talismanic Brazilian duo of Carlos Herrmann and Daniel de Souza but Hart says it’s been a real team effort.
“We’ve managed to get lots of players on the court and have probably been lucky with having no real injuries, which means you can keep the intensity really high. We’ve concentrated on what we do really well which has paid dividends, we’ve scored a lot of goals which always helps and I think that’s just from the fitness levels and the overall attitude and positivity we have on the court,” he says.
“At the moment we’ve got the two top scorers in the league, we’ve scored nearly 70 goals and that speaks for itself in the way we try to play. We always want the players to be positive and express themselves.”
The likes of Herrmann and de Souza – both based in Queenstown – have certainly been doing that, lighting up the league with a set of skills Hart says are hard to come by in this part of the world.
“They give us a bit of spark, a lot of people here aren’t quite used to the way they play and so they do things people aren’t expecting. They work very well together and that’s the big key as to why they’ve scored a lot of goals, they’re very much on the same wavelength,” he says.
“We’re spreading the goals around but it does take a certain amount of pressure off if you’ve got two players who are scoring a lot of goals regularly.”
Hart believes the tight nature of this year’s Futsal National League bodes well for the overall development of the game and is expecting a real fight for the play-offs over the next two days.
“There’s lots of teams that can still make it and everyone is going to have to push really hard in these remaining games to get themselves into a position where they can do it. It’s great for futsal overall that the regional centres who are a bit smaller and haven’t had as much success in the past are now flexing their muscles – that can only be good for the sport,” he says.
One of those coming to the fore after a disappointing campaign last season is Northern, whose coach Felipe De Marchi Bernardi is targeting a play-off spot but is fully aware of how difficult that could prove.
“The improvement from last year is huge and being able to put out a team at every series that can compete shows the real improvement the team have made this year,” he says.
“By our calculations, we will need at least three wins to have a chance to qualify for the semi-finals – a tall ask but after three good series I have the confidence and the team believe we can qualify.”
The round robin action in the Futsal National League will be completed today and tomorrow at ASB Stadium with the semi-finals and final set for Sunday at the same venue.
For the full draw of the Futsal National League please click here
This weekend’s action is available to watch via LIVE STREAMING at the following link: