Comparing Kairat Almaty's 2014/15 UEFA Futsal Cup victory in Lisbon to that in Tbilisi two years earlier, goalkeeper Higuita said the second one meant more. "When we became champions back then, there were people who said it was just dumb luck. Today we have proved it wasn't".
What he meant is, when Kairat became Kazakhstan's first UEFA champions in any discipline in 2013, critics said coach Cacau had just caught FC Barcelona and Moscow's FC Dynamo by surprise with their use of Higuita effectively as an outfield player. That tactic remained as Kairat overcame ISK Dina Moskva and Barcelona at the Meo Arena in the Portuguese capital, but this time no one had the excuse of not knowing exactly how Cacau would set up his team.
Kairat stormed into the finals with 28 goals in three elite round games, twice as many as any other qualifier. In the semis they took on Dina, the dominant Russian and European side of the 1990s but in this 14-year-old UEFA competition for the first time. Dina actually scored twice in the last two minutes to force extra time but Kairat eventually won 7-4 with four Leo goals.
Up against them in the decider were holders Barcelona, who won their semi-final 5-3 with two last-gasp goals against hosts Sporting Clube de Portugal, urged on by a competition-record 12,076 fans, the first five-figure crowd in a UEFA club futsal fixture. The fans were cheered up two days later as Sporting surged to bronze, Alex getting four goals in an 8-3 win against Dina.
Barcelona were favourites to win the final, as they aimed to equal UEFA Futsal Cup records by claiming a third title and a second in a row. But Kairat were the only team ever to have beaten Barcelona in Europe, in the 2013 semis, and after a shaky start, led 2-0 at half-time through Humberto and Divanei – the former Sporting player who ensured his team had home fans' backing. Barcelona twice pulled one back but Kairat won it 3-2, Higuita's passing in attack having proved as important as his goalkeeping.
Cacau, the fourth coach to clinch a second UEFA Futsal Cup, mused: "We played a complete match, and this final was a great show." He could have been speaking for the finals as a whole, an unprecedented aggregate attendance of nearly 30,000 watching the four games, which had sold out in a fortnight.
Barcelona's Wilde, who in a long career has won two FIFA Futsal World Cups including one at home in Brazil, said of the semi-final with Sporting: "I have played many, many matches and I have never seen anything like this. I have to congratulate Sporting for what they did inside the arena; for futsal this is very beautiful."
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