Slovenia have lost all five of their UEFA European Futsal Championship finals games but they are taking an upbeat approach as they prepare to open the 2012 tournament against holders Spain in Zagreb on Tuesday.
The champions have won the past three editions and last tasted a competitive defeat, other than on penalties, in 2005. In October, Slovenia travelled to Spain and lost friendlies 3-0 and 2-1, but while defender Igor Osredkar acknowledges the gap between the teams, he knows surprises can happen.
"They have great players, they are all professionals and we are amateurs," Osredkar said. "We are going into the game with a relaxed attitude and we will see what happens. [Our underdog status in Group B, also involving Ukraine] is our opportunity, because they do not know what to expect from us."
Spain captain Kike, aiming for his fifth European title, believes the friendlies last year brought home how much Slovenia had improved since he was part of two 4-1 2004 FIFA Futsal World Cup play-off wins against the same opponents. "We played against Slovenia a couple of months ago, which helps us in that we know them better now," he said. "They have grown so much and are very physical with quick players. They have also improved a lot tactically. They are a team to take into account in this tournament."
There was a blow for Spain last week when Fernandao suffered a torn calf muscle, meaning Miguelín was called up for his first major championship. Coach José Venancio López said: "Fernandao is a fixed pivot who likes to play with his back to the game. Miguelín is a more versatile player who can manage different types of play. We can use him in more defensive departments and he can also help us in unbalancing opponents. He can give us that numerical superiority."
Naturally, expectations are contrasting. Slovenia coach Andrej Dobovičnik mused: "We have a young team, but we have a lot of international experience. It will be very hard to [draw with Spain, like in a 2004 qualifier] but we will try. We will try to show we deserve to be at this European Championship."
Venancio López, meanwhile, said: "We realise that we are among the favourites and we accept that role; it's also a tag that we carry in every championship. That might sound trite but it's a reality given we are coming here on the back of the history we've made. Now we must demonstrate why we are favourites in every game we play because each time it gets more difficult with our rivals continually improving."