Belgium coach Alain Dopchie has vowed to reward the home supporters for their backing at UEFA Futsal EURO 2014, telling UEFA.com on the eve of his side's Group A opener versus Romania that the Red Devils will make the fans "proud".
The portents suggest the hosts will be up against it at Antwerp's Lotto Arena, venue for the group stage before play switches to the adjacent, and larger, Sportpaleis. Belgium have lost six and drawn two of their last eight matches in the finals of this competition and first up face a team they were defeated 4-3 and 5-2 by in two away friendlies 11 months ago.
Things do not get any easier on Saturday either, with two-time runners-up Ukraine providing the opposition. Dopchie, however, knows the backing from stands could make the difference in what is regarded as the tightest section in the tournament, the former assistant to ex-national team boss Benny Meurs having experienced first-hand the atmosphere that can be generated inside the 5,218-capacity hall.
"I was here under the previous coach in 2009 for the qualification round for Hungary and there was 2,500-3,000 in attendance," he said. "It was the first time we had played in front of so many fans. It's a boost for us and I hope they will be great supporters. My message is clear: support us and we will make you proud."
Without injured Club Futsal Eindhoven forward Karim Bali, dubbed the "Ricardinho of Belgium" by Dopchie, the 49-year-old is nonetheless quietly confident of breaking new ground for Belgian futsal. "Getting to the quarter-finals would be a good result," he explained. "Romania are a team we know well, we've played them many times. We know the quality of the squad and their flying goalkeeper."
Quarter-finalists last time out, Romania have arrived in Antwerp "with confidence" following their spectacular 9-3 aggregate triumph over Serbia in the play-offs and like Croatia 2012 also begin against the host nation. "It feels good to be here in Belgium and we can't wait to start," said coach Nelu Stancea, goalkeeper when the team was founded in 2003 and who succeeded Sito Rivera ahead of the play-offs last September.
"It's a close group − the public will get behind the home team, that's normal – and we expect there to be a great number of fans in the arena and for there to be some great matches. Don't forget, though, there will also be about 200 Romania supporters present. We've come here with confidence because Serbia are a very strong team. We're here to qualify."