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If Portugal are to reach their second UEFA Futsal EURO final they must overcome the team who, above all others, have proved their nemesis in competitive play.
The Selecção das Quinas have never defeated last-four opponents Italy at a major tournament in seven previous attempts, most recently squandering a three-goal lead through a Ricardinho hat-trick when losing 4-3 after extra time in the quarter-finals of the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup. Earlier that year, Jorge Braz's men succumbed 3-1 at the same juncture in Croatia.
When extended to all meetings with the Azzurri, Portugal's record hardly inspires confidence, reading: P17 W1 D8 L8. Perhaps significantly, though, Portugal won their last encounter, triumphing 4-2 in a Brescia friendly 12 months ago.
Ricardinho, who scored twice that day, told UEFA.com: "We know that facing Italy means we will have to beat them for the first time in a competitive match, but we also know that we are no longer jinxed against them because recently we managed to prevail in one of two friendlies we had there."
The Interviú Madrid forward − injured when Portugal went all the way to the 2010 decider, which they lost to Spain − has been at his creative best in Antwerp, providing a finals-leading five assists for a team that finished runners-up behind Russia in Group B before eliminating Ukraine on Tuesday.
Braz has certainly been enamoured with his squad's displays in Belgium. Perform like they have done thus far and, his opinion, they will banish their Italian hex. "If we continue to be the same Portugal team that has played in this European Championship then we have every chance of getting to the final," he said.
Italy, meanwhile, stand on the cusp of a third continental final. Winners in 2003 on home soil, they lost out to Spain four years later in Portugal. In total, this is their eighth appearance at this stage of the competition. "I'm happy that we confirmed ourselves among the best four in Europe," said coach Roberto Menichelli, whose side were surprised 3-2 in their tournament opener by Slovenia before easing past Azerbaijan 7-0 and edging Croatia 2-1.
"I don't think too much about the semi-finals we lost at EURO and the World Cup [both in 2012 against Spain]," he added. "We are there again and I'm happy. We must look ahead and try to beat Portugal, knowing they are a very good side who have great individual players but also play well as a team. Jorge Braz is doing a great job. They play better than a couple of years ago and are continuing to improve."
Pondering Thursday's Sportpaleis fixture, Daniel Giasson said: "This game will be spectacular. Portugal are not only Ricardinho and Cardinal − they are a great team, but so are we."
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