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Croatia hope for happy homecoming

Croatia will play their first final tournament game in a decade when the hosts kick off UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 this month and coach Mato Stanković believes his team can shine.

Croatia show their ability in last month's World Cup defeat of Azerbaijan
Croatia show their ability in last month's World Cup defeat of Azerbaijan ©Ruslan Mikayilli/Azerisport.com

On 31 January, Croatia will kick off UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 against Romania in Split, with the Czech Republic also featuring in the hosts' first final tournament for more than a decade. Coach Mato Stanković returned from a successful spell in charge of Libya in 2010 to take charge of Croatia and spoke to UEFA.com about his ambitions and preparations.

UEFA.com: What do you know about your group opponents?

Mato Stanković: We know a lot. We have met the Czech national team many times in qualifiers before I came. Our results weren't very good, but all the matches were played in a short period of time, and only small details decided the winner. I even think the Czechs were very lucky in those matches, and I hope that it's time for that luck to turn. As for Romania, we played two friendly matches against them in Croatia last year. We won one match and lost the other. They are an interesting team, with a Spanish coach, but they are not unbeatable.

UEFA.com: What are your ambitions?

Stanković: Our primary goal is to get to the second round. For us, for the competition, for futsal in Croatia, I think that would be good. We'll stick to that primary aim, we'll do everything to get to the second round, and then we'll see what happens later.

UEFA.com: Croatia have not played in a final tournament for a long time. Do you think you will be able to cope with the experienced national teams that are in front of you?

Stanković: I should say that I am afraid or something like that, just to give me an excuse for failure in advance, but no. I will say that I think there are four or five national teams that are really better than us, that are really better, while the rest are good teams, but we can give a game to any of those.

UEFA.com: What do you expect the atmosphere to be like?

Stanković: I hope people will recognise that this is the largest competition that Croatia will organise this year, that people will come and see that this is not just a hobby, because that is a major problem in Croatia. People have to come and see how serious a job this is, and how the players work. We also have to motivate them with our performances and results.

UEFA.com: When you came back from Libya, what were your priorities?

Stanković: At the time I didn't even think I would become coach of Croatia, because I had serious conversations with Iran and Qatar. However, things changed, and I was selected here. After that, my primary goal was getting the team together. A national team should not be allowed to get together only once or twice a year, so we decided to meet once a month, to improve our status in the Croatian Football Federation (HNS), which we managed to do with the help of the people at the HNS.

UEFA.com: What are your team's strengths?

Stanković: This is a new, young team which can surprise all the other national teams. I think we will play very aggressive futsal. The previous team was also good, but they were constantly in fear, thinking Spain are better than them, or some other team are better than them. I try to tell my team that they can play anyone, they just need to be aggressive.