Holders Spain, 2010 runners-up Portugal, semi-finalists the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan plus former champions Italy and Russia all won their opening UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 qualifying round games on Thursday but they were not all simple tasks.
UEFA.com rounds up the action from the six groups, from which the winners and five best runners-up after Sunday's deciding games join hosts Croatia in next year's finals. Matchday 2 is Friday.
Spain, aiming for a fourth straight title, eased to a comfortable 4-0 win against preliminary round qualifiers France. The scorers were Borja, Álvaro, Fernandao and Fabián (a late replacement for injured Kike), the second goal the pick following Lin's short free-kick. Coach José Venancio López said: "France are not that strong a team and that is why we were able to control the match without any problems."
Their next opponents Kazakhstan looked set up to upset hosts Azerbaijan when Nikolay Kazakov gave them an early lead but Serjão, Felipe and Biro Jade – including a superb volley – all scored twice to turn the game for a 6-3 win. Biro Jade said: "After the fifth minute we started to feel comfortable. All our tactics went superbly. When Kazakhstan scored two late goals we knew that they can't get more than that, so we didn't lose our concentration."
Aided by a first-minute Dmitri Prudnikov goal, Russia opened with a 5-1 defeat of Finland, who played above themselves against distinguished opponents. Ville Lindgren pulled it back to 3-1 on 35 minutes only to then put through an unfortunate own goal.
The second match between 2010 quarter-finalists Serbia and hosts the Netherlands was much more exciting, ending in a 3-3 draw. Zaid El Morabiti and Dick Hulshorst put the Netherlands in an early 2-0 lead; although that was cancelled out, Mohammed Attaibi restored the advantage in the last minute but with 14 seconds left Vladan Cvetanović equalised. Both goalkeepers had fine games.
Portugal were unsurprisingly dominant against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, whose goalkeeper Miroslav Todorovski did brilliantly to keep the score down to 3-1 .Cardinal, Ricardinho and Arnaldo Pereira were on target.
Hosts Poland, FYROM's opponents tomorrow, struck twice in the last three minutes through Miroslav Todorovski and captain Michal Słonina to draw 2-2 with 2010 qualifiers Belarus after a tremendous second-half effort. Słonina told UEFA.com: "In the first half we did not play as we wanted. In the second it looked much better. We always believed that we could score and grab at least one point. We did it and we are happy!"
Norway, who made their futsal debut with three wins in last month's preliminary round, made a storming start against the 2010 bronze medallists, the Czech Republic, and led on seven minutes through Stian Dagfinn Johnsen. But within 22 seconds, Jan Janovský and Michal Belej had made it 2-1. Evergreen Roman Mareš and Belej then took control of the game and each scored, though Norway pulled it back to 4-3 and had chances to level.
The second game was also a thriller as hosts Romania fell 6-5 to Slovakia. The home side dominated early on but Slovakia goalkeeper Mário Gašparovič was superb and five times in the first half his team struck on the counter. Romania, though, now started to come back and with a flying goalkeeper they equalised through Dumitru Stoica with four minutes left only for Anton Brunovský to win it with a shot into an empty home net. Slovakia coach Richard Baco said: "We had an excellent first half, in which we achieved all what we wanted before the game. In the second half, my players became afraid of the flying-goalkeeper system used by our opponents most of this half. But the important thing is that we won."
Two-times runners-up Ukraine, staging the group in Kharkiv, deserved their 4-3 win against fellow 2010 qualifiers Belgium. The home side dominated the first half and scored four without reply, key man Yevgen Rogachov claiming two, though after the break Belgium rallied to force a nervous last few minutes.
There was a shock in the second game as Hungary, hosts of the last finals, went two up before the break against preliminary round qualifiers Turkey, who then came back to win 3-2 in an open second half, Burak Yıldırım deciding it with his second goal on 38 minutes. Turkey and Ukraine meet on Friday.
Italy, champions in 2003 but only quarter-finalists last time out, eased to a 6-1 victory against Latvia. Vampeta struck twice.
Hosting the group, 2010 qualifiers Slovenia finished only one goal short of the Azzurri, beating Bosnia and Herzegovina 5-1. Gašper Vrhovec managed two goals.
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