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Paulinho's Portugal dream

Unused in Portugal's run to the 2010 final, Paulinho has made an impact this time and ahead of tonight's encounter with Italy, is dreaming of waking up on Sunday as a European champion.

Paulinho has shone at Arena Zagreb for Portugal
Paulinho has shone at Arena Zagreb for Portugal ©Action Images

For one man, Portugal's run to the UEFA Futsal EURO 2010 final was bittersweet, as Paulinho – called up at the last minute to replace injured talisman Ricardinho – did not play a single second.

Two years on in Croatia, though, the Sporting Clube de Portugal defender has featured prominently, and with his bursting runs and uncompromising team spirit could be key to ending Portugal's run of never having beaten Italy in 13 attempts. Tonight in the Zagreb quarter-final they will attempt to set up a last-four showdown with Spain.

"In 2010, I was called up to replace Ricardinho and when something like that happens it is always very difficult to be used in a competition," Paulinho told UEFA.com. "I wanted to play and I do think I could have done, but unfortunately it was not to be.

"I sustained a serious injury last year but was able to recover well and I arrived at this tournament in a very confident mood," he added. "I have now made my debut in the European Championship finals and to top that I have been able to help my team achieve their objectives so far. It is almost impossible to ask for more."

Portugal topped a tough Group D with wins against Azerbaijan and Serbia, but 2003 champions Italy represent a step up in class. "We know Italy very well and they have a team with a lot of quality," Paulinho said. "They are physically very strong and also have dangerous individuals. We recently drew twice against them and we played really well in both matches so I think we will finally win at the third attempt. We will go though."

The 28-year-old, who describes playing at the Arena Zagreb as "truly a unique sensation" is dreaming of two more games there after tonight – and of a particularly happy ending. "To tell you the truth I have been thinking about that since 2010," Paulinho said. "I hope when I wake up on Sunday the first thing that comes to mind is: we are European champions. One thing is certain: we will do everything in our power to turn the dream into reality."