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Kairat Almaty will face holders FC Barcelona in their fifth UEFA Futsal Cup semi-final on Friday in Tbilisi – and are determined to make the decider for the first time.
In 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011 (the last as hosts), Kairat fell in the last four and their preparations for this year's tournament were disrupted when coach João Carlos Barbosa left for Rusisa's Sibiryak in February. In his place, however, came former Kairat player Cacau, and fresh from securing their tenth straight Kazakh title defender Dinmukhambet Suleimenov and goalkeeper Vitaliy Khalyavin are in confident mood.
UEFA.com: What does this competition mean to Kairat?
Dinmukhambet Suleimenov: First, it means pride for us, for the club and for Kazakhstan. It's not the first time we have played in the finals and we are honoured to defend the colours of Kazakhstan and our team.
Vitaliy Khalyavin: Participating in the UEFA Cup is prestigious because it gathers together the champions of different countries. For Kairat and all of Kazakhstan it's really an honour to take part in these tournaments with the strongest teams.
UEFA.com: How surprised were you when coach João Carlos Barbosa left?
Khalyavin: Of course, it was very unexpected to discover that two months before the finals the coach had left the team. It was his decision. He didn't leave any problems after his resignation; the team were still ready. A new coach has replaced him and we carry on working.
Suleimenov: It was a bit of a shock for us. We thought he would stay with us to the end. But it happened and, as he put it, he "behaved professionally". But we don't stop at that. We have a new coach, a former player. He knows us players very well, and together we are trying to establish a positive atmosphere within the team.
UEFA.com: How has it been under Cacau?
Khalyavin: Quite comfortable. Meaning that he's not disrupting the mentality of the team. He's always open to communication with players. It's a positive experience and the team have a [positive] attitude to him. He knows a lot of the players because he used to play for the club
Suleimenov: Cacau knows the players, he used to play with some of them. He has a common language with everybody. He has also brought in some new ideas concerning free-kicks and tactics.
UEFA.com: There have also been signings this year. How have the new players like Betão and Euler adapted?
Suleimenov: Well. They have fitted into the existing atmosphere. And everyone gives their best in the training sessions.
UEFA.com: Betão helped Interviú Madrid to victory in this competition in 2009. How useful will that experience be?
Khalyavin: He's a very experienced player who has played for the top teams in the world, in European terms. He has also been a world champion [with Brazil]. So of course I think his experience will be useful. As a player he can help us and take command of the game. I think it will help a lot.
UEFA.com: What can you say about the other challengers in Georgia: Barcelona, MFK Dinamo and Iberia Star Tbilisi?
Suleimenov: They are all very strong teams. Barcelona are the UEFA Cup holders, Dinamo used to be. As for Iberia, I heard that they have participated in every UEFA Cup and have now reached the finals for the first time. They are playing at home, so you can imagine how helpful the support will be for them. I think every team is strong in its own way.
UEFA.com: Kairat have lost four semi-finals – can the fifth one be lucky for you?
Khalyavin: It can. Because the club have done a lot of work in strengthening this team.
Suleimenov: Everything is being done by the managers and the players so that we can win the cup this year. We will do our best.
UEFA.com: What has been missing in the past?
Suleimenov: I myself participated in the 2011 finals. In the semi-final [against Sporting Clube de Portugal] we were 2-0 behind, then we equalised but conceded the third goal almost immediately. At that time our team had many young and inexperienced players, so a lack of experience played its part in that semi-final.
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