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Three days after FC Barcelona relinquished the UEFA Champions League title, they face another European semi-final in the UEFA Futsal Cup in Lleida on Friday night and Sporting Clube de Portugal coach Orlando Duarte believes that in this discipline the hosts are also the team to beat.
Staging this tournament 150km from the Catalan capital, Barcelona have proved impressive in their debut campaign, scoring 41 goals in six games and boasting a two-time competition winner in former Playas de Castellón FS man Javi Rodríguez and UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 top scorer Torras. Duarte, who led Sporting to the final a year ago, is clear: "
Barcelona could be the best team in European futsal of recent years. I say this with all sincerity. They have a very strong squad, a good coach, a good organisation."
At what is likely to be a sold-out Pavelló Barris Nord, Barcelona are hoping to capitalise of the experience of clinching their first Spanish title last year in a play-off decider against Caja Segovia FS in front of a capacity 8,000 crowd at their usual home opposite the Camp Nou. However, they are not letting Tuesday's footballing disappointment against Chelsea FC distract them.
We don't have more pressure to win the UEFA Futsal Cup after Barcelona's defeat in the UEFA Champions League," coach Marc Carmona said. "We will fight to give this trophy to the club, which is the only one that is missing, but we don't feel more pressure or more responsibility."
He is also not underestimating the opposition. "I said before that the other coaches will make us favourites," Carmona added. "Being favourites doesn't give you any security. Sporting's best virtue is that they are a very good team. They may have not the names that Barça or Dinamo have but they have a very good coach and are full of international experience."
Subtracting from Sporting's experience is the suspension of Brazilian winger Déo plus Buiu's knee injury. However Duarte confirmed that João Matos has recovered from his ankle problem, though he, like Alex – a 2005 winner with Action 21 Charleroi – is a booking from missing Sunday's final day.
Former Portugal coach Duarte, who believes the presence of famous footballing names like Sporting and Barcelona can only help futsal's profile, is hoping to go one better than 12 months ago when they beat hosts Kairat Almaty in the semi-finals only to then lose to ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5.
"[Our experience] may help if we have the ability to do something that we have should have done in the last edition," Duarte said. "We are going to do everything we can to win against a very strong team. But even the best teams lose. We will see if we have the capacity, the intelligence and the ability to do it. I expect an intense, high-quality match. This is a very important match for us and we want to win it."
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