UEFA Futsal EURO 2018 in Ljubljana kicks off in exactly one year and Slovenia's tournament ambassador Milenko Ačimović will be an appropriate successor to the man that did the job for Belgrade 2016 – Dejan Stanković.
The legendary pair, along with Ačimović's fellow 2018 ambassador Mile Simeunović and many other Slovenian football and futsal VIPs, launched the countdown to the finals at a special event on Monday at Stožice Arena, the Ljubljana venue that will stage the matches next year between 30 January and 10 February.
The 2016 tournament at Arena Belgrade was a huge hit, watched by a record aggregate crowd of 113,820, plus millions more on television around the world. The finals in Slovenia now take up that mantle, and the little more than 500km distance between the previous and next host cities is further reduced by the close relationship between the two figureheads leading the promotional activities.
After all, they are not only former team-mates at Crvena zvezda, but Stanković is married to Milenko's sister Ana, and is a frequent visitor to Ljubljana, the Ačimovićes home town. Indeed, after retirement, Stanković and Ačimović reunited to play for the Olimpija Ljubljana veterans team.
But then the pair always had a connection, not least as creative players able to operate in the middle or out on the wing, with techniques that make them suitable ambassadors for futsal as well as football.
Both of course scored famous goals from the halfway line, Stanković for Internazionale Milano in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals against Schalke and Ačimović in Slovenia's historic UEFA EURO 2000 play-off with Ukraine. They then met at UEFA EURO 2000, Stanković's Yugoslavia and Ačimović's Slovenia playing out a superb 3-3 draw.
So it is only right that Stanković can pass on the baton of ambassadorship (technically the official match ball of Futsal EURO 2016!) to Ačimović. The 38-year-old Stanković said of his Belgrade 2016 experience: "It is something we will never forget," while hailing the players as "true masters of the ball".
Ačimović, 39, added: "To be ambassador for such a big event is a great honour. I thank the Football Association of Slovenia for choosing me." There is no doubt Ačimović and the rest of Slovenia can look forward to a truly great spectacle next year.
— UEFA Futsal (@UEFAFutsal) January 30, 2017
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