Six of the eight sides that will go to Porto in November to contest the UEFA European Futsal Championship are now known after a day when holders Spain, the Czech Republic, Serbia and surprise package Romania secured qualification to join Russia and hosts Portugal in the draw on 12 May at 13.30 CET.
In Group C Poland had performed well to win their opening two games in Pinto but it was always going to prove to be a tougher proposition if they were to overcome mini-tournament hosts Spain and earn a shock place in the finals. And so it was to prove as the Spanish made it 22 goals from their three-match qualification series with a resounding 5-0 win. Meanwhile, F.Y.R. Macedonia clinched third place after edging out Cyprus 3-2.
Matters were far less straight forward in Lasko where host country Slovenia went into the final day of Group G qualifying knowing that a draw would send them through, but anything less could let in both Belgium and Romania. In the end the Slovenians fell to a 3-1 reverse at the hands of Belgium and it was preliminary round qualifiers Romania who made it to their first European finals. A 4-2 win against Moldova meant that all three sides finished level on six points but it was the Romanians who were celebrating virtue of a three-way head-to-head calculation with Belgium third. It was a superb achievement for Romania, who had to go through the preliminary round to reach this stage as they ranked outside the top 24 European nations prior to this tournament.
Serbia too strong
Serbia will also be making their maiden European Championship appearance after they eased out Group D mini-tournament hosts the Netherlands 6-0 in Geleen. The Dutch went into the match knowing that a win would put them through at the expense of their opponents but they were no match for the physical Serbians and in the end had to settle for third in the pool after an 8-3 success for Azerbaijan clinched second place.
The final group to be decided on Sunday was in Split where the Czech Republic's qualification was seemingly never in doubt. The final tournament hosts last time around made sure of their fourth appearance in succession with a 5-1 win against Croatia that continued their 100 per cent winning record in Group E. Croatia finished second in the section, just ahead of Kazakhstan who got their first points with a 8-5 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Italy one point away
Russia had already earned a place in the finals alongside hosts Portugal by winning Group F on Friday, and Group A concludes on Monday when 2003 champions Italy need only a draw against Belarus to pip their opponents to first place in Martina Franca. The last mini-tournament to begin, Group B in Andorra, also starts tomorrow and runs until Thursday with two-time runners-up Ukraine, Slovakia and Israel also involved.
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