Greece goalkeeper Christos Achis dedicated their early progress from the UEFA European Futsal Championship preliminary round to late national coach Dimitri Nicolaou. Finland, the other side through with a game to spare, are reaping the rewards of "ten years" of hard work.
Nicolaou died of cancer in 2007 aged 43 and, after keeping clean sheets in a 3-0 win against Albania and 5-0 defeat of Georgia to top Group C in Malta with a game to spare, Achis told uefa.com: "I dedicate this special moment to Dimitri and to his family. I am very happy about the team's performance and success. I am also very happy for myself. What we have done today echoes back home in Greece. I love these guys. It is our first success of this sort." Greece face Malta on Sunday, and in the qualifying round from 19-22 March will meet Serbia, Belgium and F.Y.R. Macedonia in Group 5 in Antwerp.
Albania bounced back to beat Malta 5-2 on Friday and a good result against Georgia on Sunday could take them through as one of the two best runners-up from the four groups. Coach Armand Dama said: "Greece were too strong for us yesterday. Malta today were not, and my boys played really well." Malta end their campaign against the group winners, and assistant coach Mark Marlow said: "Obviously Greece are a very difficult side. Our main objective is to instil a new positive mental attitude, so that at least we can possibly achieve something in the last match."
Finland's progress to a qualifying round group against Portugal, Poland and Azerbaijan came after beating Montenegro 4-2 and Turkey 2-0 in Israel. Coach Jouni Pihlaja said: "Finnish futsal has been working hard for ten years and this is the prize to all those who have been involved in this project for a long time. "
The Republic of Ireland, in contrast, are playing their first senior competitive internationals in Dublin and, after losing their debut 2-0 to Cyprus, secured a maiden win on Friday by the same scoreline against England. Lloyd Massey scored after just five seconds and Philip McDonagh added a late second, which means that a victory against Kazakhstan on Sunday could take Ireland through. "The team put in a magnificent display. We had a game plan from the start, we stuck to it and it paid off. I'm delighted for the players who have put in a lot of hard work over the past couple of months. We will now go into Sunday's decider against favourites Kazakhstan with confidence," said manager Derek O'Neill.
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