After six days' intense action at the UEFA European Futsal Championship, the tournament is now into its knockout phase – meaning the departure of four teams from the group stage.
The expansion of the finals from eight to 12 teams created a new format of four groups of three, meaning sides had to be into gear quickly if they wished to avoid an early exit. Hosts Hungary, Belgium, Slovenia and debutants Belarus are the four nations whose campaigns are over, but all made their contributions to the tournament.
Hungary lost their opener 3-1 to dark horses Azerbaijan, but could still have progressed if they had drawn with the Czech Republic. A packed crowd of 7,000 at the Papp László Arena roared Hungary into a 4-0 lead but, deploying a flying goalkeeper, the Czechs roared back to lead. Zsolt Gyurcsányi equalised, only for Hungary to fall to another Czech strike 19 seconds from time.
Shaken by the experience, Mihály Kozma – who also led Hungary in their previous finals five years ago – insisted: "This was not the end of an era in Hungarian futsal. A few players will retire but our goal was to find young, talented players, and we have found Zoltán Dróth in recent months. We have a future. I won't resign."
Another side were involved in a memorable final game as Belarus, having lost 9-1 to Spain in their opener, came back from two down to lead Portugal 4-2. A huge upset was on the cards but Portugal were soon 5-4 up, and although in the final second Belarus equalised, their goal difference did for them. Aleksei Popov scored a brilliant hat-trick against Portugal, capped with his last-second double-penalty equaliser, and told uefa.com: "For the older players it was a last game at this level, so everybody was performing as if it was the last battle. In general, I can't say that we performed well or badly. We were average."
Slovenia and Belgium both ended seven-year absences from these finals, but neither secured a point. Belgium lost 4-0 to Italy and 4-2 to Uraine in a tough group but coach Benny Meurs pointed out: "The Italy coach said this tournament was important for them because they have six players who were here for the first time – we have 12! What can we say about experience then? We have a good team, we try to play beautiful futsal in all senses."
Slovenia look ahead
Defeated 5-1 by Russia and 2-0 against Serbia, Slovenia found the gap between amateurs and professionals too big despite the presence of several hundred travelling fans in Budapest. Coach Andrej Dobovničik also rued Gaspar Vrhovec's absence through injury. "We have to go home and look ahead to the next championship," said the coach. "Some players will probably end their national-team careers at this point so they are more disappointed than most. The positives are that we have more experience."
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