MFK Viz-Sinara Ekaterinburg will hope the backing of nearly 5,000 fans will help them make a dream UEFA Futsal Cup debut as they kick off the Elite round in a tough group against SK Energia, Hapoel Ironi Rishon Lezion and CIP Deva on Sunday.
Russian runners-up Ekaterinburg qualified for Europe as champions MFK Dinamo Moskva also claimed the continental title. Viz-Sinara have been seeded to this stage, and victory in the mini-tournament at the 4,608-capacity Palace of Sports would take them into April's final four. Well supported, Ekaterinburg gained their first major honour this year with the 2007 Russian Cup.
'Fresh and quick'
They are currently second in the league after 6-1 and 7-1 weekend wins against MFK Spartak Shelkovo, Dmitry Prudnikov scoring three goals to take his tally to 14, but Ekaterinburg are two points adrift of Dinamo having lost twice to them earlier in the campaign. "I am happy that we have systematically created scoring chances and taken them," said coach Sergey Skorovich. "As far as I can judge we were looking fresh and quick."
However, their task will not be easy as they begin against Energia, who deprived former UEFA Futsal Cup semi-finalists FC Shakhtar Donetsk of the Ukrainian title last season. Energia strolled through the Main round last month, beating Bulgaria's MFC Varna 10-1 and Politekhnik Yerevan 11-2, though they were then defeated by SL Benfica. The promising Denys Ovsyanykov and Oleksandr Kondratyuk each scored five goals in the Main round and veteran pair Valeriy Legchanov and Andriy Fedyuk claimed four each. However, against the hosts Energia will be without suspended 21-year-old Ukrainian international goalkeeper Volodymyr Kardash and prolific striker Serhiy Piddubnyy. Igor Kirkizh, 37 next week, will keep goal on Sunday.
Energia coach Yuriy Kobzar said after the 8-1 weekend league win against Marrion Odessa that kept his team three points clear and unbeaten: "Before travelling to Ekaterinburg we tested out the style we will be using in the UEFA Futsal Cup Elite round and as a coach I was not impressed with how we coped. The lads managed to change their approach and everything went our way after the break but I still have mixed feelings with UEFA matches looming."
Romanian champions Deva had mixed form in the Main round, losing their last game to HMNK Gospić and scraping through by a point. However in 2006/07 they beat Shakhtar and held Sporting Clube de Portugal in finishing second in an Elite round group behind Dinamo, and they provide the bulk of the Romania team who have qualified for their first UEFA European Futsal Championship finals next month in Porto. Coach Zoltán Jakab, who can call on eleven of his club players in his other role as leader of the national team, said: "We know that we are playing against three higher-rated teams and we hope to pull off a surprise. A surprise would be to finish second in the group and a huge surprise would be to qualify."
Hapoel are the first Israeli entrants for several years, but they are one of only two clubs to have reached this stage after starting in August's Preliminary round. Indeed, they have won five of their six games on their European debut. Their sole defeat came against Main round hosts Clearex Chorzów though Hapoel subsequently finished top of that group in a three-way tie.
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