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Croatia up against Spain all-stars

Croatia lost 10-0 to Spain in qualifying and as they meet again in Group D, Mato Stanković is already looking beyond that match while the holders are taking nothing for granted.

Croatia up against Spain all-stars
Croatia up against Spain all-stars ©UEFA.com

If you lose to a team 10-0 in qualifying, forcing you to get to the finals via a play-off, the last thing you probably want once you make it is to face the same side again first up.

But that is the task for Croatia in their Group D opener in Antwerp on Wednesday, as Spain begin their bid for a fifth straight UEFA Futsal EURO title. Mato Stanković, who led Croatia to the semi-finals on home soil two years ago, masterminded a comfortable play-off defeat of Slovakia following their group reverse in Spain, but already has an eye on their other match against the Czech Republic on Friday.

"Spain are like an NBA team in basketball, but we will try," Stanković told UEFA.com. "Our big chance is against the Czech Republic, they are at the same level. We are not looking so seriously at the games against Spain, all our focus is on the match against the Czechs."

While Spain have reached the final of all but one UEFA Futsal EURO and the last five FIFA Futsal World Cups, Croatia – other than when automatically qualified as 2012 hosts – have little recent experience at this level, and are missing suspended defender Jakov Grcić. "This is the first time in 13 years we have got through qualification," Stanković said. "Last time we were fourth, but we know that is not really our true position."

That could not be said for Spain's first place in 2012, their fourth in succession in this tournament and fifth in all. Since then goalkeeper Luis Amado and fellow stalwarts Kike and Álvaro have bowed out, but the top scorer in Croatia, Torras, is still in the squad, though he was rested for recent friendlies. Two players missing last time through injury – Fernandão and Pola – are present this time, too.

"It is pleasing to have all 14 players available for this tournament, this is the only important thing for us," said José Venancio López, in charge for the victories in 2007, 2010 and 2012. "I think [Torras] is ready, in good form, and we are going to try in the group stage to get him up to speed."

Since the 10-0 defeat of Croatia in March, when Sergio Lozano scored a hat-trick, Venancio López has overseen ten friendlies, with Spain scoring 58 goals in eight wins and two draws. But he is not taking anything for granted despite the result in their previous meeting.

"That is history," he said. "The match on Wednesday is going to be a completely different game. They know us well. They know how to play against us, to make it an equal and difficult game. They have their strengths and they are a great team who reached the semi-finals of the last EURO, so it will be a very difficult match."