Kairat were top seeds in Elite round Group C, but went into the final day second on goal difference behind Czech hosts FK Era-Pack Chrudim having defeated Slov-Matic Fofo Bratislava 4-3 and Futsal Topsport Antwerpen 5-1. So victory was needed, but at half-time Kairat trailed 3-1 and later went 4-2 down before goals from Rafael and Cacau in the final four minutes secured a dramatic 5-4 victory. "We defeated a strong team which makes our success bigger," said Cacau. "We had to prove our success two years ago was not an accident. I am happy we earned some respect for Kazakh futsal."
The Almaty side have a mixture of Brazilians like Cacau and homegrown players including Yuriy Butrin, and the Kazakhstan international added: "Chrudim were the toughest of our three opponents but we proved that Kairat do not just have ball skills and tactical ability but also mental strength. This win proves we are in form and can match the top sides."
Time to prepare
In 2005/06, Kairat had just over a month between pipping SL Benfica to the semi-finals and meeting MFK Dinamo Moskva, losing 8-2 on aggregate in the former two-legged system. But this time around the one-venue final stage is not until 24-26 April, giving Kairat plenty of time to come to terms with fellow contenders Dinamo, ElPozo Murcia FS and MFK Viz-Sinara Ekateringburg. Captain Etienne said: "The semi-finals are scheduled for late April so we have almost half a year which is quite enough time to get ready. There is no other goal but to win the UEFA Cup because we have already reached the semi-finals."
Feet on ground
That said, coach Jose Alecio Da Silva is well aware of how tough it will be in the spring. "We should not be euphoric," he said. "A ticket to the final four is not a cup. There is just one trophy and we have to stay humble until we win it because we have three super-clubs standing in the way of real success."
Still, Kazakhstan is certainly not a minnow nation when it comes to futsal; prior to their UEFA transfer they won bronze medals at the 1999 and 2000 AFC Asian Futsal Championship and club president Kairat Orazbekov has created a side capable of similar success in Europe. "In Chrudim we were reaping the fruit of thoroughly planned scouting and training," he said. "We are on the right track and I want to sincerely thank all the staff and everyone who helped us. We will try to make our fans happy during the final four."
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