Croatia fired up for Ukraine quarter-final
Sunday, February 5, 2012
In the last eight for the first time, Croatia are looking to avenge a 4-1 FIFA Futsal World Cup loss to Ukraine in December when they take on the two-time runners-up in Split on Monday.
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If the prospect of playing in a sold-out arena was not motivation enough, Croatia have the added incentive of righting a recent wrong against Ukraine when they play the two-time runners-up in the UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 quarter-finals.
The teams met as recently as 16 December in the FIFA Futsal World Cup main round in Baku, where two Denys Ovsyannikov goals and one apiece from Serhiy Cheporniuk and Maxym Pavlenko secured a 4-1 win for Ukraine.
Having opened the group with a 3-1 victory against Azerbaijan, Croatia ended their campaign by overcoming the Former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia 4-1. They could only be denied a play-off place if the hosts beat Ukraine by between two and four goals, but a pair of late Azerbaijan strikes gave them a 4-2 win that left Croatia in third.
With the World Cup exit still a sore point, forward Dario Marinović cannot wait to turn the tables on Monday in Split. "We are very happy to be playing them because we still have open wounds from Azerbaijan," said Croatia's three-goal top scorer at the finals.
"You really don't need any extra motivation when you're the host and playing in the quarter-finals, but we have it against Ukraine. We just hope that the weather will be better so the arena will be sold out. With 10,000 fans behind us we'll be a tough team to beat."
Croatia impressed in topping Group A ahead of Romania and the Czech Republic to reach their first quarter-final. Although history has been made, Mato Stanković believes his squad − yet to fall behind in the tournament − "hasn't reached the level we're capable of and we can play better in the next game".
They have been raucously backed at the Spaladium Arena, which reverberated with excitement during their thrilling 5-4 success against the Czechs. That kind of atmosphere might faze many a team but not Ukraine and their captain, Valeriy Legchanov.
"We won't feel the pressure of playing in front of 10,000 fans in Split," said the 31-year-old, who scored a hat-trick in his team's 6-3 defeat of Slovenia. "We're used to these kinds of matches; six months ago we played Brazil in their country in front of 15,000. If we play to our true level it won't matter how many fans are in the arena because we will win, for sure."
Gennadiy Lysenchuk could have Cheporniuk and goalkeeper Yevhen Ivanyak available for selection after the pair missed Saturday's 4-1 loss to Spain, which condemned them to second place in Group B, with minor injuries.