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Croatia are making their first final tournament appearance in 11 years as UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 hosts but look competitive in Group A as they face a talented Romania team and 2010 bronze-medallists the Czech Republic in Split. UEFA.com profiles the contenders for the two quarter-final berths on offer and click on the video to hear from the coaches.
Mato Stanković returned to Croatia in summer 2010 to prepare the team and oversaw positive performances that November when they travelled to Libya – where he used to coach - and won the inaugural Mediterranean Cup by beating the hosts on penalties, having previously defeated future EURO qualifiers Turkey and Slovenia. Then, in June 2011, they overcame Argentina 3-0 in a friendly and other promising results have including a draw in Iran and win in Azerbaijan.
Best performance: group stage 1999, 2001
Key players: Ivo Jukić (goalkeeper), Dario Marinović, Tihomir Novak
Mato Stanković, coach: "This is a new, young team which can surprise all the other national teams. I think we will play very aggressive futsal."
The run to UEFA Futsal EURO 2010 third place was a real breakthrough for the Czech Republic, who since their 2003 semi-final performance had been regular qualifiers but prone to slipping up at final tournaments. They lost 1-0 to Romania in qualifying but still topped them in the group and they beat Croatia in Split to reach the 2007 finals.
Best performance: semi-finals 2003, 2010 (third place)
Qualifying: Norway 4-3, Slovakia 5-3, Romania 0-1 (Group 4 winners)
Key players: Lukáš Rešetár, Roman Mareš, Michal Mareš, David Frič
Tomáš Neumann, coach: "The last two championships we've had the hosts in our group; in Portugal we played against Portugal and the same happened in Hungary, and here again. It's great, because we will be playing in front of a full house, in front of excellent supporters."
The Romania side was only founded in 2003 but within four years has reached their first European finals – performing impressively in Porto. Now they are back again with a lineup many of who have been in the squad since the early days and a Spanish coach in the shape of the experienced Sito Rivera. Earlier this year they met Croatia in two friendlies, winning 4-1 and losing 5-2, while they have an impressive record against the Czech Republic, beaten in their first 2003 meeting but undefeated in nine encounters since, notably an 8-4 triumph on their EURO finals debut in 2007.
Best performance: group stage 2007
Qualifying: Slovakia 5-6, Norway 3-1, Czech Republic 1-0 (Group 3 runners-up)
Key players: Florin Robert Matei, Robert Lupu, Cosmin Gherman
Robert Lupu, forward: "I know that there will be 10,000 Croatians in the stands, but be sure that there will also be several hundred Romanians, who are also noisy ... if you cannot stand up to pressure like that, you are not good enough to play at such tournaments."
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