When Spain play Russia in Thursday's UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 semi-final they will renew the competition's oldest rivalry – and one that has proved rather one-sided.
Only once in eight previous editions of this final tournament have these nations not met and Spain have won six of those seven games, including the finals of 1996, 2005 and 2012, not to mention knocking Russia out of three FIFA Futsal World Cups.
The exception was the 1999 decider in Granada, where Russia won on spot kicks with a penalty by the great Konstantin Eremenko, his goal in the 40 minutes also taking him to a finals-record tally of 11 still never threatened.
That 1999 squad remains the beacon for Russian futsal and current coach Sergei Skorovich took his 2014 selection to meet them before travelling to Antwerp. Meanwhile, the man who saved two shoot-out penalties in that final, goalkeeper Oleg Denisov, has been in Belgium – the MFK Dina Moskva general secretary and journalist spoke to UEFA.com about that day 15 years ago and Thursday's semi-final.
UEFA.com: What secrets did the 1999 squad share with the Russia players before they left Moscow for Antwerp, and have they helped them?
Oleg Denisov: Every one of us has his own secrets to share. I personally said we have as big a chance as ever to repeat the success of 1999. Some Russia players might have their last chance to become European champions and I suggested taking this opportunity. I believe it was a good meeting for them and it has helped them somehow. We have given them a sort of impetus. If I am not wrong, such a meeting with the veterans, as we are usually called now, took place for the first time in 15 years.
UEFA.com: How much has futsal changed, what are the biggest differences?
Denisov: Our futsal was much closer to football, it looked like football much more. Now futsal moves further and further from football as many new specific combinations and set plays have been implemented in futsal. We had our own tricks in futsal in our day and we tried to use them. The biggest difference is on a tactical basis.
UEFA.com: Are Russia unlucky to have won nothing since 1999?
Denisov: It is just a pity. We want this sad trend to end now, 15 years since the last big win. There were some objective reasons. A change of generations began – our generation stopped playing one after another. We should have waited for a new generation to emerge.
We also had many Brazilians and other players from abroad coming to the Russian league. This may have raised the standards of the league, but on the other hand it perhaps stopped younger players developing in the right way – it was certainly like that at the start. It was an issue with the national team as well, but it seems the right balance has been found now.
UEFA.com: Did you expect Russia to play so well in the finals, especially in the last eight against Romania?
Denisov: Yes, I did. I was sure Russia were favourites. At least, no less than Spain. One of these two will win the final. The matches I have seen here only make me more confident. Spain started not that well and some doubts could have appeared, but afterwards they showed who they are. Portugal and Italy can be competitive against Spain and Russia only if it is their lucky day – but it still can happen.
UEFA.com: Would it be better for Russia and Spain to play in Saturday's final?
Denisov: They could have met in the final only if one of them had finished second in their group. Overall, I don't think it's bad that Russia and Spain will meet before the final. It's good for futsal's development. If it was like "Russia and Spain can meet only in the final", then all the last EUROs would have ended with the same match: Russia-Spain. It would be very unlikely to help promote and develop futsal at European level.
UEFA.com: Futsal fans still remember the legendary Konstantin Eremenko, who died in 2010 – everybody truly respected him. You were team-mates with Dina Mosvka and Russia. What was he like as a player and as a person?
Denisov: Everybody saw what a great player he was. He stepped in as MFK Dinamo president after finishing his playing career and made Dinamo one of the leading clubs in Russia and Europe. He was a true leader. He was never afraid to be a pacesetter, to act as an example for others, to drag them all along. He was not afraid to be responsible for the result. There are not many people like that, not just in sport and futsal. That's what made the difference. We have some players in the Russia team who never freeze in any tournament situation, but probably we haven't had them in recent finals.
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