Azerbaijan finished fourth at UEFA Futsal EURO 2010 and Serbia reached the quarter-finals, but one will probably be headed for an early exit after Friday's Group D encounter in Zagreb.
While Serbia are starting their campaign, Azerbaijan lost 4-1 to Portugal on Wednesday and a second defeat would spell the end for a side who lit up the last final tournament on their debut. Serbia would certainly like to be through with a win before ending the group against Portugal, and coach Aca Kovačević − without the absent Marko Perić − knows how vital the Azerbaijan game will be.
"This is our third straight Futsal EURO finals," Kovačević said. "Our group is very hard, very tight and the game against Azerbaijan is the most important. If we win it will open the door to the quarter-finals."
Captain Bojan Pavićević concurs. "
Right now the game against Azerbaijan is like a final, it is the most important game for us and we have focused on it like a final," he said. "They are a good team, very strong, but we can win."
This is probably the toughest of the groups and that was proved by Azerbaijan's opening assignment, a high-tempo encounter where Portugal's superior finishing was decisive. Azerbaijan coach Alesio said: "I hope we can maintain the standard in our next match against Serbia so we can win and qualify for the next stage. I'm confident about that and if we are able to improve on certain aspects of our game we will succeed."
The top scorer in the main round of qualifying, Serjão, drew a blank on Wednesday, much to the disappointment of the Zagreb fans who, just like those in Hungary two years ago, have taken to the charismatic Azerbaijan pivot. "From what I saw in the last tournament Serbia have a very good team," he told UEFA.com.
"They are physically very strong but we have to worry about our own game. We will play to win so we can continue our campaign.
Maybe we are not as strong as in 2010 but if that's the case then it has to do with the fact that our players are no longer playing for just one club [Serjão's former team, the Alesio-coached Araz Naxçivan].
"Some have moved away since the last tournament and that means we don't have the same connection as before, but I'm sure we will improve for our next game."
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