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Croatia ready for last hurrah against Italy

Mato Stanković and Dario Marinović want Croatia to end a "brilliant" campaign on Saturday by claiming bronze against an Italy side glad to be back among Europe's top four.

Roberto Menichelli and Mato Stanković in discussion at Arena Zagreb on Friday
Roberto Menichelli and Mato Stanković in discussion at Arena Zagreb on Friday ©Action Images

Hosts Croatia's memorable run at their first UEFA European Futsal Championship for 11 years culminates against Italy in the third-place play-off on Saturday, with Dario Marinović urging his team-mates to give their all one last time.

Three times the tournament attendance record has been beaten by the crowd at Croatia's games, with 14,300 watching the 4-2 semi-final loss to Russia at Arena Zagreb on Thursday that ended their best-ever major futsal run. MNK Split player Marinović, one of the stars of the finals with his rapid acceleration and fierce shooting, is part of a squad which has exceeded expectations. That, though, does not mean the Group A winners, who defeated Ukraine on penalties in the last eight, will ease off against the Azzurri.

"This is a miracle for Croatian futsal − I even can't describe how big the miracle is for us," the 21-year-old, who is one assist behind Spain's five-goal Torras in the adidas Golden Boot race, told UEFA.com. "People who are not involved will maybe not understand. It's a really brilliant result, but we don't want to be satisfied with this − we need to give our best and try to win bronze."

Marinović scored twice on Thursday despite being hampered by a back problem. "I want to thank the fans for their support, it was a [great] spectacle, and I hope in the third-place match there will be at least half that atmosphere," he added.

Another sizeable attendance should lift Marinović and Co after that loss, as should words of encouragement from their coach, Mato Stanković. "I will tell my players they have done good things," he said. "I am trying to convince them that this was not all we had to offer, that we can play a top match and defeat Italy. It would be good to release the handbrake now and to play the last game without any pressure."

That is something Saturday's opponents are used to handling. Having been eliminated by the Czech Republic on spot-kicks in the last eight two years ago, the first time they had never reached the semi-finals, 2003 winners Italy had one goal here in Croatia. "We wanted to restore Italy to the top four in Europe and we managed to do it," said coach Roberto Menichelli, whose side were denied a third showpiece appearance by Spain.

"We played a good tournament, drawing 2-2 with Russia, beating Turkey [3-1] and Portugal [3-1] and losing [1-0] to Spain. We are happy above all because against Spain we did the best we could. Now we play Croatia, a beautiful match and, as in the previous games, we will give our best to win."

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