Romania's presence in the UEFA European Futsal Championship, which begins on Friday, is in part a personal triumph for Zoltán Jakab. The national team had been going less than a year when he became coach in December 2003, and using few more than 20 players over the course of around 70 matches, he has moulded a team ready to play among the top eight in Europe.
Jakab's team earned their place in Portugal as they topped a qualifying group containing Belgium, Slovenia and Moldova in February and will be the only nation in the finals for the first time. They are fast gaining experience, something helped by Jakab taking a dual role as coach of Romanian champions CIP Deva in the summer, leading a team closely resembling the national side to the UEFA Futsal Cup Elite round.
While Group A opponents the Czech Republic, Italy and hosts Portugal will be tough Jakab, whose team beat Belgium 6-3 in a friendly on Sunday before losing 4-3 yesterday, is optimistic. "There are several reasons for being satisfied ahead the final tournament," he told uefa.com. "Firstly, it's obvious that we are progressing all the time, shown also by how we played at the Futsal Cup, because CIP Deva is effectively the national team. Secondly, our FA have arranged plenty of friendlies against tough opponents. We have qualified for the first time and, thanks to those friendlies, we have built a very competitive team, especially considering that over four years I have worked with no more than 20-22 players. Fourteen of them still will be in the squad for Portugal and each of them has played at least 50 internationals."
Of course, there are problems compared to the more established futsal forces. "It's very difficult not to have other players to choose from beyond the 14 or 15 who are already in the national team," Jakab said. "In our championship, there are only 30 or 40 professionals and only at CIP are there 13 Romanian professionals - other teams rely mostly on foreigners, especially Portuguese and Brazilians. Other Romanian futsal players play for second and third division football teams but I prefer to work with those who just play futsal."
That does not stop Jakab believing Romania can upset the odds. "Everybody says that Portugal and Italy will qualify from our group for the semi-finals, and Russia and Spain from the other group. I think that Portugal will become European champions. This means that in order to qualify we will have to produce at least one big surprise. Our first match, against the Czechs, will be the most important. We have to win this match to take a huge step towards securing at least third place in the group. This would be good for us. If we finish second, it would be very good. With a little bit of luck, as we have a good team, why should we not hope to reach the semi-finals? It would be fantastic. But third place in the group would not be bad on our final tournament debut."
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