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World Cup exit focuses Croatia minds

Croatia's Mato Stanković will ask his side to remember their recent FIFA World Cup exit when they face their Czech nemeses, who need a two-goal win to pip the hosts to the quarters.

Mato Stanković is using December's World Cup disappointment to inspire his team
Mato Stanković is using December's World Cup disappointment to inspire his team ©Sportsfile

Croatia coach Mato Stanković has warned his side against complacency when they face the Czech Republic, their old nemesis, in a contest for the remaining qualification place from UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 Group A alongside Romania.

The odds are stacked in the hosts' favour following their 2-1 defeat of Romania on opening night and the latter's 3-1 victory against the Czechs on Thursday. That means the 2010 bronze-medallists must beat Croatia by two goals or more to progress at their expense for the third time in four Futsal EUROs and deflate the hopes of supporters who are again expected to pack the Spaladium Arena in Split.

Stanković, however, knows from recent experience that winning the first fixture in a group does not guarantee success: in December his side started their FIFA Futsal World Cup main round campaign by overcoming Azerbaijan but were denied a play-off place by one goal in a three-way head-to-head tie-breaker despite prevailing 4-1 against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in their last game.

Asked if it will be important to keep his players grounded following the euphoria of Tuesday, when a tournament-record crowd of 8,000 turned up, he said: "Of course, because during World Cup qualification we faced the same situation. We won our first match against Azerbaijan and we thought we'd progress, but then we lost to Ukraine and everything went wrong. That's a sign we must be careful going into our next game."

In the countries' last encounter, Croatia missed out on the 2010 finals with a 3-2 Czech win in Ostrava that came through two last-gasp goals either side of an Ivo Jukić red card. The Czechs also won decisive qualifiers against Croatia in 2007 – in Split – and 2003, and goalkeeper Jukić said: "We're looking forward to the Czech Republic. We have some 'issues' with them from matches in the last few years and we believe we can beat them."

Disconsolate in his post-match press conference on Thursday, Czech coach Tomáš Neumann knows there is "a lot of work ahead" if he and his charges are not to make an early exit. "We have two days to prepare and we'll try to win by that [two-goal] margin," he said. Far from fearing that his players might be overawed by the weight of support in the arena, Neumann wants them to use it as a source of inspiration. "I like the big atmosphere − I hope the players do and it makes them play better."