Ten of the 12 teams competing at UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 in Croatia early next year were among the 14 to make it through to the FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifying play-offs after the conclusion of the seven main round groups.
Two-time world champions Spain led the way with a free-scoring display, while in the tightest group, Ukraine and Azerbaijan just pipped EURO hosts Croatia. Joining the ten European finalists in the two-legged play-offs on 25 to 28 March and 8 to 11 April are Norway, Slovakia, Belarus and Hungary.
The draw will be made at the Sheraton Hotel, Zagreb at 11.30CET on 11 February with the group runners-up to be matched with the winners, other than teams from the same section, and the seven play-off victors progress to the 24-nation final tournament in Thailand from 2 to 18 November 2012.
Group winners: Spain*, Italy*, Serbia*, Portugal*, Ukraine*, Czech Republic*, Russia*
Group runners-up: Norway, Romania*, Slovenia*, Slovakia, Azerbaijan*, Belarus, Hungary
*Competing at UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 from 31 January to 11 February.
Round-up: click on the group title for results and standings
Spain, who lost the 2008 final on penalties to Brazil having won the trophy in 2000 and 2004, eased through, opening with an 8-0 defeat of Norway with seven different scorers then seeing off Belgium 6-0, five players on target. UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 hosts Belgium had already lost their opener 2-1 to hosts Bosnia and Herzegovina, Alen Lalić striking twice in an exciting finish, but he was then sent off in a 2-1 loss against Norway, Erlend Skaga's last-minute goal coming with the home side still depleted.
On the final day Spain made certain of qualification as group winners, defeating the home side 6-0 with four Fernandao goals. Norway, who needed only a point against Belgium to be the only one of the seven preliminary round qualifiers to make the play-offs, led twice in the first half but both advantages were cancelled out. On the half-hour Amar Zouggaghi put Belgium ahead but Abdurahim Lajaab equalised with five minutes left and Norway withstood a late barrange to draw 3-3 and advance.
That is a superb achievement in Norway's first-ever World Cup campaign, having only just got past October's preliminary round as second-best runners-up.
The two qualifying places were decided with a day to spare as EURO finalists Italy, staging the group, and Romania eased through. The Azzurri, 2004 runners-up and 2008 bronze-medallists, overcame Poland 5-2 with a hat-trick from Humberto Honorio, who also then scored in a 10-1 defeat of Bulgaria.
Romania started with a 3-0 win against Bulgaria and it was then 9-3 versus Poland, Marian Șotărcă striking three. Italy took first place 4-2 against Romania while Poland pipped Bulgaria to third 5-4.
This section was another where two EURO contenders advanced. Hosts Slovenia made it early thanks to a 3-2 defeat of Israel and 6-1 victory against Moldova. Serbia, meanwhile, won 4-0 against Moldova but were then held 4-4 by Israel despite leading 4-2 at the break through a Slobodan Rajčević hat-trick.
Israel now aimed to make up the three-point and five-goal deficit to Serbia but their hopes were dashed in Sunday's first game when a last-minute Sergieu Tacot equaliser gave Moldova a 3-3 draw in a match they had trailed 2-0 and 3-1. Now, through, Serbia defeated Slovenia 3-1 to finish first.
Portugal, at home in Coimbra, eased into the play-offs along with Slovakia. The hosts' progress was assured with a 3-0 win against Lithuania and 6-0 defeat of France, Cardinal getting one in the first and three in the third.
Slovakia made it to the play-offs for the first time, seeing off France 3-1 and Lithuania 4-2, though missed out on top spot as they lost 5-1 to Portugal, Cardinal striking twice more. France overcame Lithuania 3-2 for third spot.
The only group containing three EURO contenders proved predictedly competitive. Croatia gave hope for a good performance on home territory next month with their opening 3-1 defeat of EURO 2010 semi-finalists Azerbaijan, staging the group in Baku, while Ukraine began by beating the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 2-1. A day later Ukraine defeated Croatia 4-1 while Azerbaijan recovered to win 7-1 against FYROM, aided by a Felipe hat-trick.
Today Croatia put themselves in position by overcoming FYROM 4-1, meaning they could only be denied if Azerbaijan beat Ukraine by between two and four goals. With eight minutes left that game was level but then Serjão and Vitaliy Borisov struck in quick succession to make it 4-2 and take Azerbaijan through, above Croatia by a single goal in a three-way head-to-head tie-breaker, with Ukraine top.
There were mixed fortune for European finalists in this section as the Czech Republic made it through with a game to spare but Turkey were eliminated as Belarus also progressed. The die was cast on the opening day as Turkey fell 7-1 to Belarus while the Czech Republic, hosting in Brno, won 5-1 against the Netherlands.
A day later Turkey had a chance to keep their hopes alive but lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic, twice reducing arrears but never able to level after Marek Kopecký's early strike. Belarus made sure of their progress too with a 2-0 victory against the Netherlands. The Czech Republic finished top by defeating Belarus 5-2 while Turkey ended up without a point, losing 4-3 to the Netherlands and an Adil Zouthane hat-trick.
World Cup semi-finalists in 2008, Russia showed their form ahead of Futsal EURO as they made it through with hosts Hungary. Russia started with a 2-0 win against improving Latvia and then a 4-0 defeat of Kazakhstan proved enough to book their place. That was because Hungary had beaten Kazakhstan 5-1 then drawn 3-3 against Latvia, Ákos Harnisch delighting the home crowd with an equaliser ten seconds from time.
Latvia could still deny Hungary but that hope went today when they drew 2-2 with Kazakhstan. Safely through, Hungary were beaten 4-2 by Russia for first place.
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