Ex-Fenerbahçe SK striker Ömer Kaner is now the champion of futsal in Turkey as national coach and he tells UEFA.com that they can pull off a "phenomenal" qualification in Ukraine.
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Ömer Kaner made his name as a striker with Fenerbahçe SK, one of 16 football clubs he later coached, but since 2006 the 59-year-old has had a new task – leading Turkey's national futsal side and promoting the sport throughout the country.
For the second time he has guided them into the UEFA European Futsal Championship qualifying round, where they travel to Kharkiv for a tough Group 5 from Thursday. Yet before Turkey take on Hungary, hosts Ukraine and Belgium, all of whom competed in the 2010 finals, Kaner gives a progress report to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: Turkey have reached the qualifying round for the second time. Does this mean futsal is making progress in Turkey, and will it increase interest in the sport?
Ömer Kaner: There was already a base for futsal in the universities, but now we're trying to make the sport more popular. There are 120 clubs in our futsal league, although the competition goes back just two years. Actually, when we first formed the futsal national team, our aim was to increase interest in the game – and it was a top-down attempt.
After the preliminary round in Izmir [last month], a man stopped me in the street and said: "Your team played very well today." I was surprised, but that is an indicator of the significant interest in futsal in Turkey. If we can reach a level of interest similar to basketball, we'll be successful. Following an agreement between the Turkish Football Association (TFF) and the ministry of education, 600 schools will have futsal training. I believe these efforts will bear fruit.
UEFA.com: How did you judge the preliminary round matches in Izmir?
Kaner: We played our first match against the most powerful team in the group, Montenegro [winning 5-1]. Opening games are crucial because when you win the first, drawing the second can then take you into the next stage. The players concentrated and did what they were asked, and we got a decisive victory.
Our second opponents were Switzerland who are quite new to futsal. Despite our warnings, my players underestimated them and we lost [3-2] because of the dip in concentration. Moldova were a tough team too but we won [4-2] after a decent display. Overall I was satisfied with our performances.
UEFA.com: How do you rate your opponents in the qualifying round?
Kaner: All of them are strong but we are by no means inferior. Anything is possible in the group. We'll be one of the 12 best teams in Europe if we qualify and that is a significant achievement. We have played both Hungary and Belgium twice. We lost every game by a small margin. But then we didn't have an ideal squad. Ukraine will have home advantage. Our chances of reaching the finals are as high as Hungary and Belgium's. If we can win the first game, we'll most probably go through. It would be a phenomenal achievement.
UEFA.com: The TFF is considering becoming a candidate to host UEFA Futsal EURO 2014; what would be the impact?
Kaner: There's great interest in the finals. Last year I was in Hungary and saw 1,000 people attending each game. It could be a huge experience because we would qualify directly for the finals as hosts. It would produce a boom in interest and the TFF would be honoured to stage the event.
UEFA.com: What does futsal have that football doesn't?
Kaner: There are nicer moves, goals and goal attempts. There is an average of eight goals and 50 shots per futsal game. It is a spectacle but one without mud, rain or snow. It's good entertainment for the family. When people realise that, a lot will change.