Belgium host UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 from Tuesday in Antwerp and one of their senior players, Karim Chaibai, knows it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Chaibai made his name with the Action 21 Charleroi side that dominated the early years of the UEFA Futsal Cup, helping them on their way to their 2004/05 victory, and now past 100 caps the forward was also in the Belgium squad that qualified for UEFA Futsal EURO 2010 in Hungary. The 31-year-old Châtelineau Futsal attacker spoke to UEFA.com ahead of the opening game in Antwerp against Romania, which he hopes will start a new Belgian boom in the sport.
UEFA.com: How have you prepared without any qualifiers?
Karim Chaibai: We have tried to play against all kinds of teams, technical teams, tactical teams. We played two games against the Netherlands. We are aware that Romania and Ukraine have technical players and that they are both good as a team. We are working based on that, based on the teams we will face.
UEFA.com: What does it mean to you and your team-mates that the tournament is being organised in Belgium, here in Antwerp?
Chaibai: It's very important for us. I wouldn't say it adds any pressure, but it's important for us to make a good impression here in Belgium in front of our fans.
We need the support of everyone, young and old. We want them to enjoy it. We want it to be a big celebration. It will be a good promotion that has to be beneficial for our sport.
For every player it will probably be the first and the last time. Everyone will give 100%, give their maximum. But let's not forget that, as a player, you know it's only happening once so it is up to us now to enjoy it fully. Let's not forget that – let's enjoy the fact it's at home. We must enjoy it, that's the most important thing.
UEFA.com: Does the success of Belgium's football team help you or put you under pressure to match it?
Chaibai: Right now I feel it's an advantage, because it conveys a good image for us. We're part of the same national association and we must take advantage of that. Let's try and surf that wave.
UEFA.com: If you imagine a sold-out Lotto Arena, how much influence can it have on your first game against Romania?
Chaibai: We are already 100% motivated when we play in front of our fans. We feel the motivation and the noise behind us, and it helps us play even better – we try to get some inner strength that is difficult to reach normally. We need to play beyond our limits.
UEFA.com: How does this squad compare with the team in Hungary four years ago?
Chaibai: We have worked a lot since then. I think we are following a certain approach and are trying to prepare ourselves as well as possible. We are better prepared compared with our last EURO. We are a lot more prepared, prepared for many different scenarios.
UEFA.com: How have the team changed since the arrival of Alain Dopchie as coach after the 2010 finals?
Chaibai: He has been able to bring some professionalism to the squad, we are a bit more serious, a bit more mature. That's a real change. He has a good staff around him, everything is being taken care of.
UEFA.com: Let's talk about your group opponents, starting with Romania ...
Chaibai: They are a very physical team with a few good individuals; they are very adept at the flying goalkeeper routine, they play very well with their keeper. We know they are very organised tactically, I have seen them develop. I think Romania are one of the teams against whom I have played the most. They have developed very well in the last ten years.
UEFA.com: How about Ukraine?
Chaibai: Ukraine play very fast. They are very good technically as well.
UEFA.com: Who are the players to watch in Antwerp?
Chaibai: If I had to pick a standout player it would be Robinho, because I know him from Action 21 before he left to go to Russia. He's a very talented player. You have also Ricardinho from Portugal. We often face these players and they know how to please the crowd. For us futsal players it's important to have players like that for the spectators. People who come to see them will enjoy it.
UEFA.com: What did Charleroi's success do to promote futsal in Belgium?
Chaibai: I think they were a great advert for futsal in Belgium. The end result was the UEFA Futsal Cup victory. Now we need to keep it going. Since that time, I think we hit a low – since the UEFA Futsal Cup, people have not been as interested in futsal in the media. There was a lot of interest before and it died down. That's another reason why the EURO is important for us.
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