Javi Rodríguez and Nando Grana will shake hands later today as captains in the UEFA European Futsal Championship final but the pair used to line up together for the same team.
Spain skipper Rodríguez won two UEFA Futsal Cups with Playas de Castellón FS in 2001/02 and 2002/03 and the following season was joined at the club by Italy's Grana, playing alongside each other for two years. Even as they contemplated today's decider in Gondomar, the pair had praise for each other's qualities. "He is one of the best players in the world," Grana said, while Rodríguez added: "He is a very good player. He is the kind of player who performs much better when things are toughest."
World Cup final
Both captains have plenty of experience of meeting their final opponents at the highest level, not least the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Cup in which they were both involved, Rodríguez unsurprisingly picking Spain's 2-1 win in Chinese Taipei as his most memorable encounter with Italy. Grana, however, goes back a year to a game in which Rodríguez was not involved as his personal favourite.
"My best memory of Spain is when we beat them 2-1 in the semi-finals in Caserta in 2003 and then won the championship," the 28-year-old said before turning his thoughts to this tournament. "We are happy to reach the final and to establish Italy as one of the best countries in the futsal world. We respect our opponents a lot, they are a solid team."
'No weak points'
Rodríguez, 33, has no doubt that a close game is in prospect against a team who have already kept a finals record three clean sheets. "I know most of the Italian players, they have no weak points," he said. "It's true that Italy have a very solid defence, but we are the defending world and European champions. We hope it will be a good final which everyone will enjoy."
His team reached the final on Friday night with a penalty shoot-out win against hosts Portugal having come back from 2-0 down late on. So does Rodríguez expect the home fans to take against Spain? "They can't shout at us any more than they already have!" he said. "So it does not really matter."
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