UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 ambassador Robert Jarni says the tournament, starting this month, "is one of the biggest events" hosted in Croatia and talks about his love of the sport.
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Robert Jarni is an appropriate choice as UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 finals ambassador. After his football career ended, the former Croatian international played the small-sided sport to a high level, earning further caps. Ahead of the big kick-off in Zagreb and Split on 31 January, Jarni spoke to UEFA.com about the tournament and his love for the game.
UEFA.com: What does it mean for Croatia to host this event?
Robert Jarni: Croatia has already hosted European and world championships in other sports, and I believe Futsal EURO is one of the biggest events that we have hosted so far.
UEFA.com: Could you describe your first encounter with futsal?
Jarni: To explain that I have to start with my early childhood, when we played futsal on the streets of my hometown, Cakovec. My first steps were on those streets where people from the neighbourhood gathered and played futsal.
When I finished my football career I returned to Split and played for the local futsal team [MNK Split] for four years. I was lucky, since at the time we had a very good team, and we won three championships and several cups. I also had the opportunity to play in the UEFA Futsal Cup, where we were somewhat unlucky. On that occasion we played Interviú, one of the best teams in Europe.
UEFA.com: What did you like most about playing futsal?
Jarni: There are some differences between football and futsal. What fascinates me the most is the difference in speed of thinking. In football you still have some space and time to rest, while in futsal you play four on four and no player can be slow with the ball or hold it too much, since the punishment can be very swift.
On the other hand, the tactical side of it is also very interesting. If you look at the [1996 FIFA Futsal] World Cup final between Brazil and Spain, and compare it to the second [in 2000] between the same teams, you can see that in the second Spain won only because of their tactical approach.
UEFA.com: How popular is futsal in Croatia?
Jarni: I cannot really assess that for the Zagreb area, even though I know that there are many clubs there. However, in the Split region there are at least seven or eight different leagues for different age groups. The arenas are more or less sold out at those matches, and that is phenomenal. I believe that [Futsal EURO] will be a great event, I am certain the arena in Split will be full for all the matches, since there are many quality teams playing here.
UEFA.com: How do you rate Croatia's chances?
Jarni: Well, that question is very interesting and difficult to assess. Big teams are here, like Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ukraine, Russia. Those are the teams that I think will dominate. I think Croatia have a very good team, we have quality players. However, as I have said before, tactics are very important, in particular at the world and European championships. Whatever the result, even if we only get through the first stage, it would be fantastic.
UEFA.com: Which teams do you most look forward to watching?
Jarni: I think Spain are the No1 team. They have proved on several occasions, even at World Cup and club level, that they are the best team, Italy play a solid, compact style just like they do in football. Portugal are also a very interesting team. Ukraine and Russia are newcomers, and have also improved a lot recently.
UEFA.com: The Balkan region is renowned for having very talented players with a lot of technical skills. Do you think that futsal is the ideal sport to develop the skills of players in this region even further?
Jarni: Definitely. Even though futsal has not caught football in terms of popularity yet, more and more people are turning up to start playing futsal. Believe me, playing futsal is not an easy thing, and I have to admit that the training sessions are much harder than in football. There is not much time to think when you have the ball, and the game is very interesting and enjoyable to play.