At UEFA Futsal EURO 2010 something almost unique occurred: Spain did not play Italy. That is put right this time around in Thursday's second semi-final in Zagreb.
Italy's quarter-final exit two years ago meant they did not face their great rivals in a major championship for the first time since 2001. Spain had defeated the Azzurri to win both EURO 2007 and the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Cup and prevailed in a dramatic 2008 global semi-final; by contrast Italy were the last team to beat La Furia Roja competitively over 40 minutes, in the EURO 2005 group stage. Two years previously they were also the most recent side to deny them the continental title with a last-four victory on their way to a home triumph.
While Group B winners Spain have had a flawless run to this stage, never scoring less than four, Italy were held by Russia before showing their quality in the 3-1 quarter-final success against Portugal. Captain Marcio Forte, who dedicated Tuesday's win to ill former ASD Montesilvano C/5 team-mate Alexandre Ghiotti, told UEFA.com: "I am absolutely convinced that our path doesn't end here – I've got the final in mind and want to try to qualify.
Maybe few people believe in us. I'm sorry for them but the squad believes and I'm sure we will have a great performance against Spain. For sure, we will have half of the chances we had against Portugal, therefore we have to take advantage of the best ones."
Such efficiency will be needed by the Group C runners-up as Spain remain unbeaten over 40 minutes since José Venancio López became coach in 2007. He has huge respect for the Azzurri, however. "Against Portugal, Italy were far superior and they deserved to go through," he said.
"The great thing about Italy, apart from their quality, is their mentality.
They really know how to compete well and they don’t have to play an exceptional game in order to win – that’s the most dangerous thing about them."
Spanish stalwart Kike sat out the second half against Ukraine in the group stage but will be fit on Thursday, with only Álvaro remaining sidelined with a calf injury. "We have to stay faithful to our style and do what we know best," Venancio López added. "We must maintain that style even though we are facing a semi-final against Italy."
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