Not only have Croatia failed to beat Italy in all 14 previous meetings, but coach Mato Stanković considers their quarter-final opponents on Tuesday to have already produced the performance of UEFA Futsal EURO 2014.
Croatia were second in Group D, holding Spain and the Czech Republic 3-3 in virtually identical games with Matija Capar each time equalising late as flying goalkeeper. Italy, who beat Croatia 3-1 for third place two years ago in Zagreb, lost their opener 3-2 to Slovenia but the 2003 champions then hit form on Sunday as they defeated Azerbaijan 7-0 to top Group C.
"Italy put on the performance of the tournament against Azerbaijan," Stanković told UEFA.com. "They are favourites to win this match, they are a very powerful, aggressive side. But we will do our best and look to perform at our peak. It is our fate to play against the best teams – ever since we arrived here we have been ready for anything."
In all, the Azzurri have 13 wins and one draw with Croatia, but forward Fortino is under no illusions, familiar as he is with opposition key man Tihomir Novak, his club-mate at Italian leaders ASD Asti C/5. "I expect a game with several individual duels," Fortino said. "They have a few players who are very skilful, Novak among them. He plays with me at club level and I think he is their best player. We will have to be very careful. I still haven't spoken to him, just a quick hello, we have time to talk.
"I think they will play futsal which can give us problems, they like to cover every space and slow the tempo down with good possession. But we know who we are going to face and we have to impose our own game and avoid the mistakes we made in the first game against Slovenia."
Another key Croatia man, Dario Marinović, has been struggling with a knee injury suffered against the Czech Republic, but having had two more days' rest than Italy, Stanković is hopeful. "It was really good to have three days between games, we were able to rest and think about the next match," he said.
"The game against Spain was really hard, we were exhausted. We had a really short time between that and the next game against the Czech Republic. It has been especially important for Dario Marinović, he has had time to recover."
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