Russia became the first team to to join hosts Portugal in the finals of the 2007 UEFA European Futsal Championship after a 5-0 victory in their qualifying round Group F decider against Hungary while holders Spain, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia all lead their pools with one match left.
Hosting the mini-tournament in Dabas, Hungary went into their meeting with 1999 victors and 2005 runners-up Russia knowing that a draw would be enough to see them progress to this November's tournament courtesy of their better goal record. However, after a promising start Mihály Kozma's side conceded two goals in three minutes just before the break - Vladislav Shayakhmetev edging Russia in front on 16 minutes before Brazilian-born Pelé doubled the lead with his first competitive goal for his new nation.
Russia then made sure that their record of having qualified for every European finals would continue as Pavel Chistopolov struck on 26 and 35 minutes and Marat Azizov rounded off the victory two minutes from time. Azizov's evening would end on a sour note though after he was sent off just before the final whistle. Lithuania, meanwhile, finished third in Group F after a 5-1 victory against Greece.
Spain, who defeated Russia in the 2005 final in Ostrava, look in similar mood as they secured a second Group C home win in Pinto. Poland had earlier added a 2-1 win against F.Y.R. Macedonia to their 8-0 beating of Cyprus to set up a Sunday showdown with Spain. But the holders - who defeated the Macedonians 6-1 - won 11-1 versus Cyprus and only need draw with Poland to take their place in Porto this November.
Three teams are still in contention on Group D, also decider on Sunday.Serbia and the Netherlands, qualifiers in 2005, go head-to-head in Geleen in the last match that day and the two teams are currently tied on four points after the Dutch hosts beat Finland 2-1 and goal difference leaders Serbia drew 5-5 against Azerbaijan on Matchday 2. Azerbaijan held the Netherlands 4-4 on Thursday, so a win against eliminated Finland in the Sunday opener would take them top, and able to qualify if Serbia and the Dutch draw by less than 4-4.
Czechs close in
In Split, Group E home nation Croatia lead 2005 finals hosts the Czech Republic on goal difference after both won their second matches. Croatia, who beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-2 on Thursday, overcame Kazakhstan 5-1. The Czechs had earlier defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina by the same score as Croatia, but their victory against Kazakhstan yesterday was 6-4. A point on Sunday would take Croatia through; the Czechs must win.
Slovenia are also one point away as their 4-2 victory against Romania in Lasko, to add to their 6-2 win against Moldova, left them needing only a point from their final Group G game against Belgium. Romania defeated Belgium 4-1 on Matchday 1, but the 2003 qualifiers recovered to overcome Moldova 3-2 to ensure pool hosts Slovenia would not be assured of a place in Porto quite yet. A draw would take Slovenia through, but there is still a possibility for Belgium if they win that match, or for Romania if they prevail earlier on Sunday against Moldova.
Elsewhere, 2003 champions Italy showed their intent on regaining the title by opening their campaign with a resounding 12-1 Group A success against France on home territory in Martina Franca. Alessandro Nuccorini's team's next challenge comes on Saturday when they face preliminary round qualifiers Turkey, who lost 3-1 to Belarus.
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