Serbia may have been missing from the final tournament of the UEFA European Futsal Championship this year for the first time since December 2006, but their presence in the 2016 finals is assured as hosts and coach Aca Kovačević is already hard at work preparing.
The former Yugoslavia captain took Serbia to the finals in 2007, 2010 and 2012, each time making the last eight, but they were denied a place in Antwerp 2014 by Romania in a play-off. The draw for the preliminary and main rounds of the next European championship takes place in Nyon on 19 September, and Kovačević – who was a member of the UEFA technical study group (TSG) in Antwerp – spoke to UEFA.com about his team's preparations for a final tournament at home, as well as the one at the start of the year, won by Italy.
UEFA.com: What has impressed you about the tournament in Antwerp?
Aca Kovačević: The first thing that has impressed me is the good relationship between futsal people. Those of us who like futsal are hoping to see the game improve even more.
UEFA.com: Is it good for futsal that Spain did not win another title?
Kovačević: Yes, in sport – like life – anything is possible. It is good because Spain were champions of Europe many times. Now the time has come for somebody else to be champions.
UEFA.com: What can your Serbia team learn from the tournament here in Belgium?
Kovačević: Firstly, in terms of organisation, how it will all work. And secondly for me, as national coach of Serbia, I can see new trends, a new wave in futsal now. I hope in my work in the future I can improve the Serbia team in this way.
UEFA.com: What do you mean by new trends?
Kovačević: One important new trend is playing with pivots. Many teams specialise in this way of playing. Another aspect is playing with flying goalkeepers. Many teams are trying this, and we must prepare to defend against that way of playing.
UEFA.com: Is futsal in Europe getting better with every EURO we have?
Kovačević: Yes, of course. I think every sport makes step by step improvements, and this is the case in futsal. There have been many good matches in this tournament, many good tactics, good players – the game is faster and faster.
UEFA.com: Is the sport growing in popularity as well?
Kovačević: Yes. In Europe, and all over the world. A sport like futsal is developing, many new countries in Europe are trying to start playing futsal. We hope that in the future we might see the likes of Germany, England and France becoming good factors in the futsal family.
UEFA.com: What can people at the championship in Serbia expect in two years?
Kovačević: Futsal is a very popular sport in Serbia. Many people play futsal as amateurs, many people like to play futsal. Professional futsal is something different. In two years the championship will be played in our country in Belgrade. I want to prepare our national team well. We were not [in Antwerp], but we have played in three European championships previously, played at the Futsal World Cup, and we rank very highly in the world and in Europe. We've been working on our quality and, with more people playing, I hope we can make the semi-finals.
UEFA.com: Are you looking forward to that opportunity because Serbia did not qualify this time?
Kovačević: Yes. Serbia didn't qualify but we have a big chance in two years' time as we will be hosts. If we prepare as I want, I would like to make the semi-finals.
UEFA.com: Is it a big advantage being at home? We saw in the finals in Croatia two years ago they had an advantage.
Kovačević: Yes – host nations, playing in their own arenas, do have an advantage. But if you don't have quality, you can't do anything.
UEFA.com: What are the strengths of your team?
Kovačević: Firstly, individual quality. We play that way, with many individual actions. We [also] defend well, very strongly and compactly.
UEFA.com: What are the keys to a successful tournament in Serbia?
Kovačević: For a good tournament you firstly need good organisation. Serbia have experience in this – last year we had the world women's handball championship and the year before that the European handball championship for men and women. Also we have had the European volleyball championship. So we have good experience and we have good hotels, new hotels, arenas – I hope it will be very good.
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