If anyone symbolises Italy's run to Saturday's UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 final it is Massimo De Luca.
The Real Rieti C/5 man had not played a single minute in Antwerp until Thursday's semi-final against Portugal. His contribution in the 4-3 success that set up a decider with Russia was universally praised as showing how deep Italy's squad and team spirit runs.
"I had a few difficult days as I was the only player always kept on the bench, but my team-mates continued to support me," De Luca told UEFA.com. "I was a bit angry, but I was just waiting for my moment to come. The coach gave me a chance against Portugal and I think I did enough to repay him."
The 26-year-old from Naples nearly scored in the second half when he hit a post with a low strike. "I have been thinking about that shot a lot," he said. "It would have been just perfect to come in and score immediately. But it's fine, it means I saved one goal for the final.
"I'm very happy about my debut in the tournament because I did well, but mostly because we won and reached the final," he continued. "There is not an individual player above the others in this squad – we are very united, this our main strength. It was my best day so far with the national team, the most exciting for sure, even if I hope that tomorrow will be even better."
If they want a second European crown, Italy will have to beat a Russia side fresh from ending Spain's nine-year reign. "I watched the other semi-final, Russia and Spain are two fantastic teams," he said. "Russia have great players, it would not be fair to name just one. Eder Lima, Cirilo, Gustavo, [Aleksandr] Fukin. I could name many of them. They are a great team made of great players."
De Luca, however, will have an extra motivation on Saturday as he was the captain of the Italy squad defeated 5-4 by Russia after extra time in the final of the 2008 UEFA European Under-21 Futsal Tournament in St Petersburg – four of the current Azzurri squad and three of their opponents are in Belgium. "Some of my team-mates and I have a score to settle against Russia," De Luca said. "We want revenge after that final.
"I still remember that final with a bitter taste in my mouth. We did not deserve to lose. Unfortunately, we lost, but let's focus on tomorrow's game, which is even more important. We want to win, it's an opportunity we don't want to miss. Sport is great because it often gives you a second chance."
Considering how De Luca grabbed with both hands the opportunity he had against Portugal, Russia had better be careful.
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