Spain celebrate once more in Croatia
Spain were 34 seconds from defeat in the final but they then clinched their fourth straight title after a UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 fortnight in Croatia full of drama, goals and record crowds.
Article top media content
It sounds so simple: Spain clinching their fourth UEFA European Futsal Championship in succession. But the 2012 finals in Croatia ended in thrilling fashion after an unforgettable fortnight in Zagreb and Split in which all sorts of records, especially for attendances, were smashed.
Russia led Spain with only 34 seconds of the final remaining, having survived two minutes with four players after Cirilo's dismissal, only for Sergio Lozano to equalise. The same player struck again late in extra time and the last act of the final in Zagreb was for a Spain clearance to roll into the net to clinch a 3-1 victory as the buzzer went.
"Spain never give up, always want a little more," said Kike, who set up both Lozano's goals, the first as flying keeper. "We always believe we can give a little more, and luckily this time we succeeded."
For anyone who thought the retirement of Javi Rodríguez and Daniel after the 2010 win would adversely affect the holders − and that Amado and Kike may be approaching the end − Spain's show in Croatia proved them wrong. It was indeed a fifth title for goalkeeper Amado (in his seventh final tournament) and defender Kike, and fourth for five-goal adidas Golden Boot winner Torras, but new names like Lozano and late call-ups Miguelín and Aicardo played just as important a part.
Their early progress was smooth, beating Slovenia 4-2 and Ukraine 4-1 in Group B, then Romania 8-3 in the quarter-finals. Yet it was their 1-0 win against Italy in the last four that most impressed, a flawless performance far from the negative display the scoreline suggests.
The side Italy overcame for third place maybe matched Spain as stars of the championship. Hosts Croatia, who had not qualified since 2001 and had never made it past the group stage, went on a thrilling run to the delight of the home fans, who three times broke the tournament-record crowd, culminating in 14,300 watching their 4-2 semi-final loss to Russia, when they came close to pulling back a four-goal deficit.
After the quarter-final penalty shoot-out win against Ukraine in Split, tournament ambassador Robert Jarni ran from his TV commentary position to celebrate with the team after what he called "a miracle". The 21-year-old Dario Marinović stood out for the hosts with five goals and finished an assist behind Torras in the Golden Boot race.
One other game will live long in the memory. A day after the Czech Republic fell, another of the 2010 semi-finalists, Azerbaijan, met Serbia hoping to avoid the same fate. Felipe put Alesio's side ahead in eight seconds, a Futsal EURO record, but they were to lose 9-8 in what became the highest-scoring finals game.
To top it off, Azerbaijan goalkeeper Andrey Tveryankin, the first 44-year-old to play in a UEFA final tournament, was sent off with the score a mere 2-2. Serbia coach Aca Kovačević said: "No one has ever seen anything like this at a Futsal EURO."