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Unbeaten in 14 matches, Italy start their latest quest to regain the UEFA European Futsal Championship against finals debutants Turkey, striving to build on the momentum generated in a promising past 12 months.
The last country, other than Spain, to win the European crown, fully nine years ago, the Azzurri have not lost since a 4-1 defeat by the holders in December 2010. "Our aim is to continue all the good work we did last year," said coach Roberto Menichelli, whose side also face Russia in Group C.
"In 2011 we played well without losing, from EURO qualification to the FIFA Futsal World Cup main round. We've also maintained a good position [third] in the FIFA rankings – that is cause for satisfaction."
Though Italy are one of the perennial favourites for the continental title, they arrived in Croatia with just seven of the players that helped them to the quarter-finals last time out in Hungary. As a result of this "tactical renewal process", Menichelli has been quick to play down his team's chances of lifting the trophy in Zagreb on 11 February.
"Only [Marcio] Forte, [Luca] Ippoliti and Saad [Assis], who plays with FC Barcelona, have international experience – the others are young players," he said. "We will try to play to the best of our abilities, taking it match by match and treating our opponents with care, starting with Turkey."
For Turkey, missing suspended Hüseyin Yıldız, merely being in Split represents success – given they only played their first international in late 2006. "We are very happy to be here because our futsal history is short," enthused coach Ömer Kaner, a former Fenerbahçe SK striker. "Our history dates back five years and that we are here after that time, in a final tournament, is for us of course a good start."
Part of the sole side to progress all the way from the preliminary round, pivot İsmail Çelen cannot wait to get going on Wednesday. "We've trained a lot for the tournament and it's a privilege to be here," he said. "Italy and Russia will be great games for us and we'll play with our hearts. It's our first time in the finals and our history isn't so long, but it'll be a good experience. We're ready for this."
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