Preparations for UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 continued this week with Spain beating Slovenia twice and Portugal playing out two 1-1 draw with Italy.
Slovenia – who face Spain in the opening finals match in Zagreb-based Group B on 31 January – gave the European champions two tough games, losing the first 3-0 in Puertollano and a day later falling 2-1 in Toledo. It took Spain until the last six minutes to open the scoring in the first match before two Álvaro goals were embellished by Rafa Usín's strike.
Spain coach José Venancio López said: "Both sides played really well. Slovenia pressed well in the first half and showed they have improved a lot. We looked to impose our game on them and to control the match and, with our quality, we managed to nullify their attacking options."
In the second encounter Álvaro made his 100th national-team appearance, nine years and 11 months on from his debut against Portugal. However, it was one of Spain's new generation, Pola, who broke the deadlock early on, José Ruiz adding a second before Benjamin Melink pulled one back
Paying tribute to Álvaro, who was awarded the silver medal of the Royal Order of Sporting Merit earlier this month, Venancio López said: "Álvaro is a player who has proved his quality at international level and at the clubs he has represented. He has a lot of technical ability and great balance. He knows how to read a game and knows when to slow things down if necessary and when to increase the intensity."
From Slovenia's side, Melink said: "The feeling was great, playing against such a strong Spain team is a unique opportunity for every futsal player. The result is good encouragement for the future. We proved that we can play almost equal against the best. But before us is a difficult and demanding path. Now we face the important qualification for the World Cup, then the European Championship in Zagreb. It will be a true challenge for points, not only for artistic impression."
His team-mate Gaj Rosič added: "Spain have shown that they are in the top two or three teams in the world. It is noticeable that they have changed a generation since the attack was not so dangerous as we expected. These were friendly matches, the purpose was to learn something and to see how much we have progressed. We are going in the right direction. However, we are a step or two behind the best, and this is the difference between professionals and amateurs. "
Portugal welcomed Italy to the same venue where they had met on the opening day of the 2007 finals, the Pavilhão Multiusos de Gondomar, and as then there was nothing between the teams this week. On Wednesday Cardinal's early opener for Portugal was cancelled out by Vampeta with four minutes left, then a day later Fortino put Italy ahead only for João Matos to equalise.
Jorge Braz, whose Portugal side are unbeaten from friendly series against Brazil, Russia and now the Azzurri, said: "It is better to play friendly games and win but we cannot be distracted from our main goal which is the best preparation possible for World Cup qualifying [in December in Coimbra]. Against Italy we had some very good moments, mainly in the first match where we could have scored more goals. When you are leading by just one goal it is all very unpredictable, especially in futsal where things can change very quickly. However, we cannot forget the quality of our opponents."
Italy coach Roberto Menichelli said: "The outcome of these two friendlies is more than positive, we took steps forward and succeeded for large periods of the matches in imposing our game at home of the 2010 UEFA Futsal Championship runners-up. We extended our unbeaten run either against Portugal or in general. These are two good performances in sight of the next important engagements, the FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifications and the UEFA Futsal Championship in Croatia: we must continue on this path."
Also in action this week are Russia and the Czech Republic in the Grand Prix in Brazil – having made it through their respective groups, the two countries meet on Thursday in the quarter-finals. UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 runs from 31 January to 11 February in Croatia.
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