As tournament hosts, Croatia are back on the UEFA European Futsal Championship stage for the first time in over a decade and their captain, Tihomir Novak, is determined that they capitalise on a golden opportunity "to do something that will be remembered in the futsal world".
For Novak, UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 offers the perfect chance to promote the sport in Croatia, and the MNK Split defender knows that this missionary work will be all the more successful if the home team can give their supporters something to shout about.
This is a great chance to attract people to the arenas –
people who have already shown that they like futsal and those who are going to like it even more after this competition," said the 25-year-old. "But our involvement in the competition is not enough – we need to do something on the pitch, to achieve a significant result."
Key to the hosts' prospects, he believes, will be their ability to handle the "extra pressure" of playing in front of large crowds with "huge expectations" – something they are not used to. "We're aware that we'll have our fans in the stands and we're all hoping we respond well to that and put in the extra effort for them on the pitch."
Croatia kick off the tournament against Group A rivals Romania in Split on Tuesday before being reacquainted with the Czech Republic side that ended their hopes of qualifying for the 2010 finals. Novak has painful memories of that March 2009 reverse in Ostrava – needing a draw, he put his team 2-1 ahead in the 39th minute, only for them to concede twice before the last whistle and miss out. "We're waiting to avenge our defeat in the last qualifiers and we'll be playing at home," he said.
Novak sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his squad's qualities, not least thanks to the influence of coach Mato Stanković, who also oversees his club side and is adept at "keeping team spirit strong". Meanwhile, players such as Dario Marinović and Josip Šuton possess the ability to beat defenders. "We're strongest in one-on-one duels, also in dribbling," said Novak, himself capable of outfoxing opponents.
And how far can they go? Novak considers Spain the favourites, followed by Russia, Italy and Portugal, yet he is upbeat about Croatia's credentials. "I believe that if we find our top form, and with a little help from our fans, we can reach the knockout phase.
If we get past the group stage, anything is possible."
This is an edited version of a feature from the official tournament programme. Download now
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