Split began the year by staging some memorable matches at UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 and more excitement seems guaranteed when the city hosts the most eagerly awaited of the UEFA Futsal Cup main round groups.
Local club MNK Split will welcome former champions MFK Dinamo Moskva and Lidselmash Lida of Belarus in a very competitive Group 5 with two teams to advance to the elite round. Split last got that far in 2006/07, having reached the inaugural semi-finals five years, but much has changed since they retained the Croatian title last term.
"It will not be easy, we are entering the new season with a new team," said player-coach Ivica Osibov. "Only five players remain from last season but we are working hard together and hoping to finish in the top two and make it through.
"Dinamo Moskva are definitely the strongest team in our group and it's almost impossible to expect anything but them winning the group. They are last season's Futsal Cup runners-up, they are very strong and powerful and I believe they will show that in Split. Of course, we will do our best to cause a surprise, but we know what to expect when we face them."
So it is Lidselmash, who impressed on their competition debut in August with three preliminary round wins in a tough group, whom Split have identified as their chief rivals. "We are going to battle for second place," Osibov said. "We do not know much about our other opponents – we tried to get some information about them, but I do not think they know much about us either.
"We have home advantage, I believe our fans will recognise the importance of the competition and that they will come and support us. Our other advantage is the temperature, as it is currently very hot in Croatia and it should still be warm in Split when the tournament takes place. We are used to the heat and our opponents are probably not as they are coming from the north and their temperatures are lower. So we will try to take advantage of that."
That home support could be crucial, as proved by Croatia's stunning victories against Romania, the Czech Republic and Ukraine in front of a packed and fervent Spaladium Arena in Split that took them into a surprise UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 semi-final. MNK will stage this group in the smaller Sports Centre Gripe yet the atmosphere should be no less intense.
"We saw that fans in Split love to see top-level futsal during Futsal EURO and they showed they can create a fantastic atmosphere, so I hope they will come again and create the same atmosphere during this tournament," said Osibov. "We need our fans and if they come they will enjoy top-class futsal and maybe help us reach the next phase."
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