Finland and tournament debutants Norway are through to the UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 qualifying round after clinching first place in their preliminary round groups on Sunday.
Hosting Group E in Tampere, Finland went into the final day three points clear at the top in their bid to make it through to this stage for the third edition running. In the opening game, Albania, unable to go through and missing suspended captain Roald Halimi, fought out a 4-2 win against San Marino. The newcomers to this level equalised twice in the first half before Armand Çela and Enrit Samarxhiu settled matters after the break.
That result meant Cyprus needed a five-goal win to pip Finland, but the hosts were two up on eight minutes, Risto Salmi twice setting up Lasse Lind. Cyprus responded well and Kiriacos Mavroudis quickly pulled one back before Chrysostomos Chrysostomou equalised with five minutes left. Victory was beyond them, though, meaning they missed out on the consolation of second place ahead of Albania.
Juha-Pekka Torvinen of Finland, whose team face Russia, Serbia and hosts the Netherlands in qualifying round Group 2 from 24 to 27 February, said: "This wasn't as good a performance from us as the two previous games. Fortunately a draw was enough to win the group, which was our goal."
In Group F, Norway and Andorra faced off for first place having both beaten hosts the Republic of Ireland and Israel in Dublin. Norway only needed a draw thanks to their goal difference but in any case were two up at the break after Cato Valøy and Abdurahim Lajaab struck in the 15th minute. Jorge Diaz pulled one back early in the second half only for Valøy to respond immediately before later completing his hat-trick as Norway streaked away to prevail 7-3. Israel beat Ireland 3-0 for third place.
Norway coach Esten Oddmund Saether told UEFA.com: "I'm really happy with the result and qualification. It was a really good match and we played very well. We're optimistic for the future. Our team has a special way of playing: it's an interesting style that we're bringing to the sport.
"We try to create and use space all the time; we rely on the team, not the individual, and we want to have the ball as much as possible. When attacking, we go with two out-and-out wingers and an advanced pivot, which helps us to create space. As a team, we try to be in motion before the ball gets to the pivot."
His team now boast a perfect record of seven wins in international futsal following their four debut friendly victories and their three triumphs, totalling 19 goals, in the Dublin mini-tournament. They will now step up a level against 2010 bronze-medallists the Czech Republic, hosts Romania and Slovakia in qualifying round Group 4. The other four sections end on Monday, but while Latvia have already won Group B, the remaining pools are set up for exciting finishes after Saturday's games.
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