Croatia exploits give Czech meeting high stakes

Group D began with a surprise as Spain were held by Croatia, who now take on the Czech Republic with both teams knowing that victory would book a quarter-final berth.

Croatia exploits give Czech meeting high stakes
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Prior to UEFA Futsal EURO 2014, both Croatia and the Czech Republic saw their Group D meeting as an effective second-place decider behind Spain. That was before Croatia started the section by holding Spain 3-3.

Croatia led the defending champions 2-1 at half-time on Wednesday and although Spain then took the lead, flying goalkeeper Matija Capar claimed a late equaliser. Now both teams know a quarter-final place will be theirs with victory on Friday.

The Czech Republic will be the last of the 12 finalists to start their campaign, hoping to avoid the 5-4 loss to Croatia that took the 2012 hosts through at their expense two years ago. Coach Tomáš Neumann told UEFA.com: "We travelled from our training camp in Prague on Tuesday. We had good preparations in Finland and in the Czech Republic.

"We are fully ready for the first game against Croatia," added Neumann, who led the Czechs to 2010 bronze but group exits in 2007 and 2012. "We watched the game between Spain and Croatia, but this match for both us and Croatia is the decisive match – the winners will go through as Spain are the big favourites to win the EURO.

"Two years ago in Split we lost to Croatia, but both teams are at the same level. We will fight and we want to win the game. It is a problem that Michal [Mareš] is injured, we only have [his brother] Roman in Belgium. But we have new young players like Michal Seidler, and others."

Before the tournament, many wondered if Croatia could match their home semi-final run two years ago away from their own fans, but after thwarting Spain, forward Tihomir Novak said: "It was very important for us because everyone in Croatia said last time it was in Croatia, and so on, but we are a good team – believe me!"

Novak, whose side have defender Jakov Grcić back from suspension, scored what proved the clinching goal in the thrilling 2012 defeat of these opponents. "We beat the Czech Republic in Croatia in the last EURO and they are a great team," he said.

"We must be prepared and keep our feet on the ground. They have a great team and some great individual players like Mareš. But they are like a team, maybe we have better individuals, but they play as a unit and they are always in the big tournaments. We have a lot of work to do and let's hope we can get to the quarter-finals."

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