Holders Spain, past winners Russia and Italy, the other 2012 semi-finalists Croatia plus regular qualifiers like Portugal and Ukraine all made winning starts to the UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 main round.
The seven group winners will join hosts Belgium in the finals in Antwerp early next year while the seven runners-up and best third-placed team go into September's play-offs for the remaining four places. UEFA.com rounds up the opening action, with fixtures continuing on Thursday and Saturday.
Staging the mini-tournament in Bari, 2003 winners Italy saw off Finland 5-1. Humberto Honorio opened the scoring and Saad Assis struck twice to make it 3-0 by the 11-minute mark for the 2012 bronze-medallists.
The opening game in the group was closer as Hungary pipped Montenegro 4-3. Zoran Barović struck twice in the first five minutes to give Montenegro the early advantage. But Zoltán Dróth pulled one back before the break and scored two more in the second half, either side of a Darko Čalasan goal for Montenegro that briefly restored their lead. Tamás Lódi claimed the winner with a little over six minutes left.
The 2010 semi-finalists Azerbaijan are aiming for a third straight qualification under Alesio and made short work of Norway with a 6-0 victory, five of the goals coming before half-time, and in the second period they were able to experiment including using a flying goalkeeper. Experienced Vitaliy Borisov and Biro Jade were the key men for Azerbaijan, both scoring twice.
By contrast, in the second game hosts Slovakia drew 4-4 with Bosnia and Herzegovina, who were 4-1 up with eight minutes left and in control. However Peter Haľko, who had opened the scoring and put through an own goal, then pulled one back and Dušan Rafaj and Ladislav Mikita levelled for Slovakia, who held on despite having goalkeeper Mário Gašparovič sent off with 39 seconds left for handling outside the area.
Russia, who came within a minute of a second European title last year in Croatia, opened with a 5-1 defeat of Kazakhstan, coached like UEFA Futsal Cup finalists Kairat Almaty by Cacau. Pula struck twice with his first in the ninth minute to put Russia three up and in the second half they were able to utilise their full squad. Robinho stood out.
Their match with Romania tomorrow looks a likely decider after Sito Rivera's side defeated home side Latvia 6-2. Robert Lupu, typically impressive, and Ion Al-Ioani both scored twice for an experienced Romania side, who rocked Latvia with two early goals and the hosts never were able to get back into the game.
Spain, starting their bid for a fifth straight European title, saw off the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 5-1 in front of a home crowd in Aguilas. Fernandão, who missed the 2012 finals with a last-minute injury, opened the scoring and Raúl Campos added two more before the break on his senior competitive bow. Sergio Lozano and Miguelín scored in the second half as Spain began their first European campaign since 1996 without either Luis Amado or Kike, both now retired from international futsal. FYROM's hard work was rewarded with a late consolation.
Croatia, who reached their maiden semi-final at home last year, showed their determination to qualify by right this time as they strode to a 7-0 win against Sweden, who made it through the preliminary round in January on their competition debut. Two goals apiece from Dario Marinović and Jakov Grcić made it 4-0 at the break and Franko Jelovčić, Kristijan Grbeša and Saša Babić rounded off the scoring.
Portugal marked themselves out as contenders once again as Greece proved no match for them technically or physically. Pedro Cary stood out, scoring twice, though Sokratis Mourdoukoutas did get a consolation from the penalty spot as the game finished 6-1.
However, it was much tougher for mini-tournament hosts Serbia as Poland took the game to them. Serbia have reached the last two quarter-finals, though, and in the 29th minute Vladimir Milosavac broke the deadlock and at the end, with Poland pushing, goalkeeper Miodrag Aksentijević secured a 2-0 win.
The Czech Republic's attempt to qualify for a tenth straight major final tournament commenced with a 4-1 defeat of Georgia in Rotterdam. Archil Sebiskveradze, who was to score a consolation double penalty in the closing seconds, put the Czechs ahead with an early own goal and in the second half Michal Seidler struck twice before David Frič made it four.
There were then nervy moments for the home crowd as the Netherlands held on to defeat Belarus 2-1. It looked straightforward when Dutch captain Samir Makhoukhi scored in the third minute but Belarus always looked dangerous and Aleksei Popov levelled in the 26th minute. Just 38 seconds later Jeroen De Groot put the Netherlands back ahead and that proved enough.
This is the only group involving three teams that made it to the 2012 finals in Croatia and two of them met in the opening game. Surprise qualifiers last time, Turkey were urged on by 1,500 fans at the Erzurum Buz Arena against Slovenia and despite falling 2-0 down the home side came back to lead just after the break. But Slovenia regained the initiative and two Kristjan Čujec goals, either side of Benjamin Melink's strike, secured a 5-3 victory.
England are through to this round for the first time and performed admirably despite falling 7-0 to two-time runners-up Ukraine. Inspired by two-goal Dmytro Sorokin, Ukraine dominated but their pressure only truly told in the last minute when they scored three times. Their match with Slovenia tomorrow has the look of a decider.
Reporting team: Tomáš Čunčík, Aleksei Binkovski, Oleg Sokokl, William Anselmo, Lucy Turner, Ivan Vjetrović & Türker Tozar
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