In the seven years since Action 21 Charleroi won the 2005 UEFA Futsal Cup, Belgian clubs have seldom come close to emulating the achievement and on Wednesday champions FT Antwerpen must begin their campaign in the preliminary round against Group C hosts Paris Sporting Club, Hamburg Panthers and FC Santos.
Belgian international Karim Bachar was in the Antwerp team that reached the 2007/08 elite round on their only previous appearance and is now player-coach, having scored the clinching goal in the 2012 championship final against Châtelineau Futsal. He spoke to UEFA.com about his side's ambitions and the importance of success to promote Antwerp's staging of UEFA Futsal EURO 2014.
UEFA.com: What are your expectations for the UEFA Futsal Cup?
Karim Bachar: We are not Belgian champions every year, of course, and we realise that at European level our goal cannot be to try and become European champions – there are other professional teams who are more likely to achieve that. We are going there to gain experience, to enjoy it, and to try to improve as a club and see where we finish. Although there is no real pressure on us, we will obviously try to get through this first stage. But we know it is not going to be easy, because we are in a group with some of the strongest sides in the preliminary round.
UEFA.com: How well do you know the opposition?
Bachar: Paris especially are pretty strong, I know some of their players who played in Belgium, but I also hear they have signed some players from Spain, who must also know what they are doing. But we also have a good, strong side and we will have to try to get through this first round.
UEFA.com: How different is it for you to start in the preliminary round?
Bachar: This is only the second time we have become champions, so for us it is not such a big difference to have to play the preliminary round. Just like our first time, we have to try to get through the different stages. We are trying to go as far as possible. The main thing for us is to gain experience.
UEFA.com: How strong do you consider your side to be?
Bachar: We still have the same team as last season's championship side and have added some players from the youth squad. In this European campaign we can see where we stand, because our priority remains domestic – the championship and the Belgian Cup.
UEFA.com: How important is it for your team's development to play in Europe again?
Bachar: It is important for me to have these young players gain experience. The advantage of this mini-tournament is also that the players, although they already know each other, are together for a few days, which is good for team spirit. Although our main goal remains the domestic competition and the cup, it would be good to get through this first round in Europe.
UEFA.com: Would a good European campaign help promote Antwerp hosting UEFA Futsal EURO 2014?
Bachar: We have been promoting the city of Antwerp through our club for a long time. Futsal in Antwerp really is alive. This is a club that is growing very quickly and we are attracting more and more supporters. Recently we played a Super Cup match in the Antwerp Lotto Arena in front of almost 4,000 spectators. Regarding promotion, we are still moving towards 2014. A lot of our players will be part of the national team and playing in Europe will only help that process.
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