A successful club coach in Croatia before a spell abroad, Mato Stanković has returned home to lead the hosts in the finals and ahead of Friday's draws mused on their preparations.
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Mato Stanković made his mark in Croatia as a player before coaching MNK Split to the 2001/02 UEFA Futsal Cup semi-finals, probably the nation's best result in the sport. Now, after a similarly successful spell with the Libyan national team, Stanković is back home to coach the hosts at UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 and ahead of Friday's finals draw in Split talked to UEFA.com about their preparations.
UEFA.com: Before the finals you have FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifying, what are your thoughts about your draw?
Marko Stanković: It is a very hard group. Azerbaijan have a few players with Brazilian origins. In recent years Ukraine have been between the fifth and seventh best team in the world, so I can foresee it will be a very hard group.
UEFA.com: Is it useful for you or a distraction to have some World Cup qualifiers before the EURO, having not had any competitive games in a long time?
Stanković: These qualifiers are definitely a good test for us. We have a young team, so it is always good to play against better teams because it helps you to improve.
UEFA.com: It is a while since Croatia have been in a big tournament, are you confident you can be competitive in February?
Stanković: It is true, we have not been there in recent years, but this time we will try to do something more. Our target, if we are lucky in the draw, will be to go beyond the group stage. We have a very young team. We've renewed the team, some old players have left. It is now important that we only play good teams in the preparation. I only want to play against the top ten teams in the world. That will make us learn and we will grow from one match to another. But the draw will tell us more about our chances.
UEFA.com: How are the organisational preparations going for EURO - do you expect big crowds in Split and Zagreb?
Stanković: We have a very nice hall which have been built for the handball world championship. I hope it will be something special and one of the best tournaments. We will do everything to make all the people coming to Croatia feel at home.
UEFA.com: You had a lot of success as a club coach, how have you found national-team coaching?
Stanković: I already had a successful experience with a national team in Libya over three years, participating in [the 2008 World Cup in] Brazil and becoming African and Arab champions. It was more difficult to have this role abroad than now in Croatia. Time will tell if I've done a good job or not.
UEFA.com: Did you have a chance to watch any EURO qualifying, what do you think of the 11 teams that will join you in Croatia?
Stanković: Spain are the best team at the moment. Then we have Italy, Russia and Portugal, Ukraine, maybe Serbia, but the strongest team are Spain and they are favourites to win the EURO.