Russia underlined their status as contenders to win UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 by finishing as runners-up at the Grand Prix in Brazil, losing to the hosts in extra time in the final, while the Czech Republic came in eighth.
The annual national team tournament is considered the most prestigious in futsal outside the world and continental championships, and Russia used it to blood fresh talent. Coach Sergei Skorovich was deprived of goalkeeper Sergei Zuev, Konstantin Maevski, Dmitri Prudnikov, Romulo, Aleksei Filippov and Aleksandr Fukin but handed call-ups to Dmitri Fayzulin, Renat Shakirov, Evgeni Misharin and Sergei Abramov. His new ensemble hit form in the group stage, beating Zambia 13-1, Paraguay 3-2 and Costa Rica 5-2.
That set up a quarter-final against the Czech Republic, also warming up for next year's EURO finals in Croatia, after they had defeated Mozambique 2-1, drawn 4-4 with Argentina and overcome Hungary 5-2. It was Russia who made it through to the semis with a 4-2 victory and then saw off Argentina 3-2 after extra time to clinch a final showdown with Brazil, who had lost the title for the first time to Spain last year.
It seemed the trophy would stay in European hands when Abramov gave Russia a 12th-minute lead in Brasilia yet after the break Valdin equalised and Falcão later hit the overtime winner – at 2-1 – for the FIFA Futsal World Cup holders. Still, it was a fine performance from Russia, who will face Italy and Turkey in Group B in the EURO finals but next month travel to Iran to continue their build-up.
"We understood what we were up against in the final," said keeper Gustavo, who shone in Zuev's absence. "Brazil are one of the best teams in the world. They are strong both individually and as a team. I think we performed well. The boys were excellent and defended well. Yes, we had some breakdowns, but that's normal. After the game went into extra time we felt some tiredness, which had accumulated after all these days, but we kept fighting anyway and played really well."
As for the Czechs, coach Tomáš Neumann was satisfied with their showing. "I am glad we could spread the burden across all our squad, including newcomers Michal Holý, Tomáš Koudelka and Michal Saidler," he said. "Jiří Novotný is in form again after injury and Zdeněk Sláma [top scorer with six goals] finally became the true team leader."
Neumann appreciated in particular the 4-4 draw with Argentina as his country's first-ever point against this traditional power. "We managed to come from behind after conceding two quick goals and we were even close to victory in the end," the coach said. "However, a draw against a side with one of the world's best defences is a success."
Of his team's eventual last-eight defeat by Russia, he observed: "They are on a different level and playing great futsal. I think they will be the main title contenders at the European Championship."
The Czechs also followed up their elimination by losing positional play-offs 6-2 to Paraguay and 4-3 to Uruguay, and the coach added: "We need ten chances for one goal."
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