The UEFA Futsal Cup semi-final draw has been made, with holders Kairat Almaty replaying their 2013 final against FC Dynamo and hosts Araz Naxçivan, staging Azerbaijan's first UEFA final tournament at Baku's Sarhadchi Olympic Sport Complex, meeting FC Barcelona. UEFA.com looks at the form of the four finalists.
Finals schedule (all times CET, Baku time is three hours ahead)
Semi-finals: Thursday 24 April
15.30: Kairat Almaty (KAZ, holders) v FC Dynamo (RUS)
18.00: Araz Naxçivan (AZE, hosts) v FC Barcelona (ESP)
Third-place play-off: Saturday 26 April, 16.00
Final: Saturday 26 April, 18.30
Semi-finals and final live on Eurosport (third-place play-off delayed coverage)
Kairat Almaty (KAZ, holders)
Best performance: winners 2013
Semi-final record: W1 L4
Main round: bye
Elite round: MFK VitEn Vitebsk 9-0, KMF Tango Sarajevo 9-0, Tulpar Karagandy 7-1 (Group C winners)
Kairat have been shuffling their squad this winter, signing Brazilians Caio Júnior, Rubinho and Café but saying goodbye to Leo, Giva and Betão. Well clear in their bid for an 11th straight Kazakhstani title, Cacau's side showed their ability this weekend by winning the inaugural Konstantin Eremenko Cup (named after the late Russia striker) as hosts – defeating TTG-Ugra Yugorsk 6-5 in the semi-finals before overcoming 2008 UEFA Futsal Cup winners MFK Sinara Ekaterinburg 5-1 in Sunday's decider.
Cacau, who took the helm before the 2013 finals having previously been a Kairat player, said: "We have won a few more trophies since I went back to Almaty as coach. My coaching career has been developing fast. But my biggest achievement is the fans' recognition. They support me as much as they did when I was a player. The UEFA Futsal Cup win was unforgettable. I very much want to feel those emotions again. My team are capable of repeating this success."
FC Dynamo (RUS)
Best performance: winners 2007
Semi-final record: W5 L2
Main round: bye
Elite round: Slov-Matic Bratislava 7-1, KMF Ekonomac Kragujevac 5-0, FC Litija 6-2 (Group B winners)
The former MFK Dinamo, beaten finalists for the last two years, appear to be in the same form that has won them the last three Russian championships. However, Russia goalkeeper Gustavo lost consciousness in a match against MFK Tyumen last week when he hit his head on the floor and suffered mild brain trauma – leaving him doubtful for the finals. Ivan Poddubny, Gustavo's understudy at UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 as well as for Dynamo, would step up.
"Our squad is very strong and we always have options if any of us is ruled out," captain Aleksandr Rakhimov said. "Our squad is very deep, so we don't have any problems."
Araz Naxçivan (AZE, hosts)
Best performance: third place 2010
Semi-final record: W0 L1
Main round: Athina '90 5-1, Châtelineau Futsal 3-1, City'US Târgu Mureş 3-3 (Group 6 winners)
Elite round: CF Eindhoven 6-3, Győri ETO FC 5-0, Sporting Clube de Portugal 6-3 (Group D winners)
Boasting the bulk of the Azerbaijan squad at UEFA Futsal EURO 2014, including coach Alesio, Araz have further strengthened with the loan signing of experienced Ukraine goalkeeper Aleksei Popov, part of the Dynamo squad that lifted the trophy in 2007 and reached the final for the last two years. Araz have won all 15 of their league fixtures this season as they aim for a ninth straight title, and look set to sign Italy's experienced Adriano Foglia and Slovenia's Kristjan Čujec.
"Our second-ever qualification for the UEFA Futsal Cup finals is a major event in Azerbaijani sport," said Zaur Ahundov, the Azerbaijani Futsal Association president. "It's a big achievement. It was achieved not just by some of the players, but by the whole squad, the whole team of Araz. Our local fans will give them extra motivation."
FC Barcelona (ESP)
Best performance: winners 2012
Semi-final record: W1 L1
Main round: bye
Elite round: Lokomotiv Kharkiv 6-1, City'US Târgu Mureş 10-1, FK EP Chrudim 4-1 (Group A winners)
These past two months Barcelona have been involved at the business end of their Spanish top-flight campaign. Indeed, prior to several of his players travelling to Antwerp to represent Spain at UEFA Futsal EURO 2014, Marc Carmona's side had suffered their first loss of the season, 6-4 to Santa Coloma FS.
Following the completion of the European finals in Belgium, Barça then won three out of three in February yet began March with a 2-1 reverse against Murcia FS, which caused them to cede second place in the standings to their southern rivals before regaining it this weekend by beating Lugo AD 7-1. However, the Blaugrana are eight points adrift of leaders Interviú Madrid (whom they beat 5-3 in January) in a table where the top eight enter the play-offs. Captain Torras continues with his recovery from a knee injury sustained in Antwerp, though he should be fit for Baku.
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