The UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 quarter-finals begin on Monday but four nations will not be taking part.
Azerbaijan, Slovenia and Turkey, all seeded third, fell after two losses, while the Czech Republic then departed on Saturday, also with a pair of defeats. The quartet had contrasting expectations − Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic reached the 2010 semi-finals, Slovenia had never won a major tournament game while Turkey were making their debut − but all must now look forward.
For Azerbaijan, the 4-1 defeat by Portugal was disappointing, and the pulsating 9-8 loss to Serbia heartbreaking for a side who captured the fans' hearts with their thrilling futsal, just as two years ago in Hungary when they made an incredible breakthrough. "In 2010 we all played for the same club and that made a huge difference on the pitch because we knew each other very well and we connected perfectly," Thiago told UEFA.com.
"We also miss the influence of [injured] Biro Jade and we could see just that tonight as I don't think we would have conceded so many goals with him in the team. [Against Serbia] maybe we were not humble enough after scoring two early goals. We should have continued to play like we were doing until that moment: waiting for our opponents to make a mistake and scoring on the counterattack.
It was a very sad farewell to the competition."
The Czech Republic, who defeated Azerbaijan for bronze two years ago, are also on their way home following a 3-1 reverse to Romania and a 5-4 loss against hosts Croatia. For Tomáš Neumann, his charges' Achilles heel is obvious. "We can't score − that's our problem," he said. "We had a lot of chances over the two matches but we scored only during powerplays [when deploying a flying goalkeeper].
In qualifying we played very well but now I don't know why we can't score."
Slovenia raised many eyebrows with their battling performance in the 4-2 loss to Spain, but were overrun by Ukraine's swift counterattacks in a 6-3 defeat made more respectable by two late goals. Thousands of fans made the short trip to Zagreb to cheer them on, and like Azerbaijan and the Czechs, Slovenia can look forward to next Saturday's FIFA Futsal World Cup play-off draw, a two-legged tie away from Thailand.
Coach Andrej Dobovičnik said: "
I hope we will feature more often in tournaments like this one in Croatia. This is a great incentive for the guys, who, of course, are not professionals. The problem with futsal in Slovenia is that we cannot do any extensive preparation, because the players have their own jobs every day."
Turkey do not have World Cup play-offs to prepare for, but it was no disgrace for the only nation to make it all the way from the preliminary round to the finals to lose to former champions Italy and Russia. "From Turkey [venue for the preliminary round] to Croatia
I can see we have reached the same level as a lot of European teams," coach Ömer Kaner said.
"We'll do much better with time, of course, but in a few years when we get to this stage again we'll do our best and you will hear more about Turkish futsal."
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