Already assured of their quarter-final places, Italy and Russia meet on Sunday for the first time in over three years to determine who will finish top of UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 Group C.
While the Azzurri began the section with a 3-1 defeat of an emerging Turkey side making their debut at this level, Sergei Skorovich's team cruised to a 5-0 triumph over the same opposition on Friday. The 1999 winners' margin of victory means a draw will ensure Russia remain in Split for a quarter-final against Portugal or Serbia on Tuesday, with 2003 champions Italy uprooting to Zagreb.
A Said Assis goal 14 seconds from time secured Italy a 2-1 success in the teams' last encounter − the third-place play-off at the 2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup − 11 months after Russia had also been defeated in the EURO semi-finals in Portugal. Two years earlier, the Azzurri had succumbed 4-2 in the last four of the continental finals in the Czech Republic.
Unsurprisingly, Konstantin Maevski describes Italy as "big rivals". "It will be an exciting game and it is difficult to predict the winner," the PFC CSKA Moksva man, who played in those three matches, told UEFA.com.
Maevski, who registered a hat-trick in his side's opening win, added: "It seemed Italy were a bit too cautious against Turkey, a bit reluctant to go forward and not give away any breaks. That was why they had more shots on goal, to minimise the risk, while we passed the ball around more."
Having fallen behind to Turkey, Italy were dug out of a hole by two goals from Luca Ippoliti, before Gabriel Lima sealed the points late on. With Roberto Menichelli's charges having done all the pressing in that match, Ippoliti knows a different approach is required on Sunday.
"We will need to pay more attention both on a mental and physical level because they run a lot and are a very organised and very strong team," said the 32-year-old, part of the squad which lifted the European title in 2003. "We'll need will and concentration − for us it's a final."
Menichelli is also preparing for a "different" test. "I don't think Russia are a team that will station themselves within ten metres of their goal," he said. "It will be a more open game; maybe this will also suit our style of play."
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