UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 hosts Croatia continued their preparations this week with a trip to Iran, drawing 4-4 and losing 5-1.
Whereas in the new year Croatia will appear in their first major tournament since 2001, Iran are regulars in the FIFA Futsal World Cup and have won 11 of the 12 editions of the AFC Futsal Championship. Thus they provided Mato Stanković's side with real tests in Yazd, just as they did for Russia earlier this month when winning one of three matches against a team among the EURO favourites.
In the first game Croatia excelled and raced into a 3-0 lead. Although Iran pegged them back, the visitors' young talisman Dario Marinović completed his hat-trick in the last minute to restore their advantage, only for the Asian champions to score again.
"We had a big lead but we couldn't win this match," Stanković said. "We went 4-3 up 46 seconds before the end but they scored an equaliser 16 seconds from time."
A day later, Iran were comfortable victors. "We made a good start in the second match yet conceded two counterattack goals like schoolboys and those are the key moments," the coach said.
"We had a few excellent chances at 3-1 down – that was our opportunity to get back in the game but we didn't. They scored their last two goals in the last two minutes. But we played that second match without fear and the players were probably tired from a 24-hour trip to Iran and a difficult match the day before."
Stanković concluded: "I have a clear picture about all the players, we achieved our goals here, although Iran are a better team. They were fantastic hosts and it was not easy to play in front of a fanatical crowd. I have to be satisfied as they are in the top division of world futsal and they defeated Russia recently. Iran will be our guests in January, we will play three more matches against them in Croatia."
Croatia next travel to Baku for their FIFA Futsal World Cup main round group against Azerbaijan, Ukraine and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia between 15 and 18 December. They begin their Futsal EURO Group A campaign against Romania – who last week beat Montenegro 6-0 in a friendly – on 31 January in Zagreb, where they will also face the Czech Republic on 4 February. Tickets are on sale now.
Also in action this week, Croatia's World Cup opponents Ukraine won 6-2 and 4-0 in Latvia, seven different players in all scoring.
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