The Alatau mountain range that provides an imposing backdrop to Almaty will not be the only towering spectacle to take in from Kazakhstan's largest city this week. Not with the UEFA Futsal Cup in town.
A field of 48 clubs has been reduced, over three rounds of competition (preliminary, main and elite), to a select four. This quartet will jostle for position at the Baluan Sholak Sport Palace during Friday's semi-finals and, on Sunday, a final and a third-place match.
The action begins with the first semi-final between tournament hosts Kairat Almaty and Sporting Clube de Portugal, being played at 14.30CET (18.30 local time). Then, from 17.00CET (21.00 local), holders SL Benfica will get started against ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5.
Benfica stole the limelight in Lisbon last year, yet for seasoned UEFA Futsal Cup semi-finalists Kairat and Sporting, and particularly for Italian competition debutants Montesilvano, a new horizon beckons in this most eastern of UEFA tournaments. Not least as no Spanish or Russian side will compete in the final for the first time.
Now a city of about 1.5 million people, Almaty developed as a trading post on the Silk Road to and from China, and the prize commodity available in Sunday's final will not be won easily. Nor will a bronze medal be undervalued in the accompanying play-off.
What is also certain is that the expected 5,000 spectators at the Baluan Sholak will witness a display of top-class futsal. This tenth season of the UEFA Futsal Cup may well be a deluxe edition according to Kairat coach João Carlos Barbosa: "The quality of European futsal is getting better and better, and not just because of the Brazilian players. You have a lot of good players in Europe too – in countries like Spain and Russia."
Portugal proved its calibre by supplying a winner last year to join Benfica's predecessor clubs from Spain (five victories), Russia (two) and Belgium (one). The drama to unfold in this, the competition's fifth four-team final tournament, will decide whether a new name and a new country join the honours list.
First, though, there are summits to scale for the assembled players and coaches.
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