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Portugal upbeat against wary Azerbaijan

Portugal's Jorge Braz struck a confident note ahead of Wednesday's Group D opener against their 2010 semi-final victims Azerbaijan, whose coach Alesio rued the absence of Biro Jade.

Jorge Braz (right) is pleased to have Ricardinho (left) in his squad
Jorge Braz (right) is pleased to have Ricardinho (left) in his squad ©AFP

Two years on from a nail-biting UEFA Futsal EURO semi-final, Portugal and Azerbaijan meet again to begin Group D in Zagreb on Wednesday.

That day in Debrecen, Portugal won on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw to reach their first final despite the absence from the tournament of star man Ricardinho, back in the squad this time. This time around Jorge Braz, Orlando Duarte's Portugal assistant in 2010 but now the head coach, is in determined mood, with no room for error in a pool also containing Serbia.

"The feeling before our first game is one of responsibility but above all a lot of calm because we know exactly what we have to do," Braz said. "We will be slightly focused on some of Azerbaijan's qualities but a lot more on our game. We have to worry about our potential and the way we play instead of looking at our opponents.

"We have several players who can score goals and we're not short of quality in that department. Besides that, this time we can call on Ricardinho, who is another player who can help us achieve our goals."

Alesio, who masterminded Azerbaijan's superb run on their finals debut in Hungary in 2010, is more wary. "Portugal are far from ideal opponents to face in our first match in a tournament like this but that's our reality and we will have to cope with it," he told UEFA.com. "We will face a very tough adversary. It's true that our last couple of matches were very even but this time they will be able to field Ricardinho and we will be without Biro Jade, a player who every coach likes to have because he thinks the game through and makes everyone around him a better player.

"I think this team is not as strong as the one who surprised everyone in 2010 and that has mainly to do with the fact several players left Araz Naxçivan after performing so well in Hungary. Almost all the players played together in the same club and that made all the difference in the national squad. This makes our mission even harder against Portugal but we'll give our best in order to, at least, get a draw.

"We have two games to achieve a win and I'm sure we will be able to pull that out. Who knows? Maybe we will repeat the run we had two years ago and reach the semi-finals once again. That would be really amazing."