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Slovenia staying grounded for Azerbaijan test

Azerbaijan enter the finals on Friday against a Slovenia team who, in the words of goalscorer Kristjan Čujec, have "done nothing yet" despite upsetting Italy in their Group C opener.

Slovenia staying grounded for Azerbaijan test
Slovenia staying grounded for Azerbaijan test ©UEFA.com

Following the euphoria that greeted their surprise 3-2 Group C defeat of Italy, the challenge for Slovenia is to ensure they seize their "great opportunity" to qualify for the UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 quarter-finals by getting a positive result against Azerbaijan.

Andrej Dobovičnik's team will seal a place in the last eight if they take a point from their encounter with the 2010 semi-finalists, the nations' first meeting at senior level.

The significance of the Balkan side's success on Wednesday could be seen both during and after the match at the Lotto Arena. Beaten in all seven of their previous finals games – incorporating the 2003, 2010 and 2012 tournaments – Slovenia met vital blocks and tackles with roars of delight, while the celebrations that followed the triumph over their Adriatic neighbours showed just what the result meant.

However, Kristjan Čujec, scorer of Slovenia's second goal, told UEFA.com: "It is a great opportunity, but we've not done anything yet. We have to play against Azerbaijan like we did against Italy, then we'll know how we'll go.

"Azerbaijan are very unpredictable and very good. They have naturally talented players; we know them from the UEFA Futsal Cup, playing for Araz Naxçivan. They are talented and strong and mostly play for the same club, so they have to be good."

Azerbaijan arrived in Belgium fresh from 4-1 and 3-0 friendly wins last week in Serbia, the country they lost 9-8 to in a remarkable 2012 fixture, a result that consigned them to a group stage exit. "I am happy with my team," said coach Alesio.

"The team's core is the same as in the last finals in Croatia. We've brought here all of our leaders, including [41-year-old] Biro Jade, who is still very important for us. We also have a few young players within the team, but most of the leading players are still the same."

After the exertions of his charges against the Azzurri, Dobovičnik knows they must recuperate as best they can for a game just 48 hours after their opener. "Azerbaijan are similar of even more experienced than Italy," he explained. "That's why we know we have a very hard match. It's going to be very important how we rest the players and prepare."

The endeavour of Slovenia did not go unnoticed by Alesio. "Slovenia are a very organised team, but they mostly use just five or six players," he said. "It's good for us because they are very tired now. Some of them spent around 30 minutes out of 40 on the pitch. That is why they stayed mostly behind the ball and were not pressing hard. We should control the ball well and not give them possibilities to mount counterattacks."