Spain and Russia renew rivalry
Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Spain and Russia meet once again in Thursday's semi-final with José Venancio López looking to replace banned Ortiz and Sergei Skorovich grateful for an extra day's rest.
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Only one UEFA Futsal EURO has ever finished without Spain meeting Russia and 2014 will be no exception after Thursday's semi-final.
Spain overcame Russia in extra time after a 40th-minute equaliser two years ago in the Zagreb showpiece, to follow final wins in 1996 and 2005 and triumphs at other stages on their way to victory in 2001, 2007 and 2010 against the side that beat them to the title in 1999. Coaches José Venancio López and Sergei Skorovich were both at the helm for the last two encounters in this tournament, as well as Spain's 3-2 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup last-eight win, and their mutual respect is clear.
"Russia are very strong; they are one of the world's powerhouses," said Spain's Venancio López. Skorovich, considering the absence of their opponents' injured captain Torras and suspended defender Ortiz, added: "Spain are not just about Torras and Ortiz. It's pity if your team loses leading players, but Spain have individuals to replace them. Spain are favourites as they are European champions."
Venancio López, whose side drew 3-3 with Croatia before beating the Czech Republic 8-1 and quarter-final opponents Slovenia 4-0, agrees with Skorovich's assessment despite Russia's free-scoring displays in Antwerp. "I don't like that people look on them as favourites, I prefer to assume that role," he said. "If people are saying that Russia are favourites, well, that might act as an extra motivation for us. We are a winning team and we will show that tomorrow."
Though Venancio López's squad have been "moving up the gears" in Belgium, the absence of Ortiz against seven-goal top scorer Eder Lima and fellow world-class pivot Cirilo is a challenge. "Somebody will have to work on the Russian pivots," the coach said. "We will have to shuffle through the options while looking to have them completely under control.
"We will need to look for the best solutions in every facet of the game. We have this evening to train and to look to put into practice ideas for tomorrow. Studying the opposition will be very important. Russia are a great side and they have demonstrated why in the past few years. It will be a difficult game, but tomorrow could be a great day for us."
Russia have a banned player themselves, Pula, following his straight red card in the 4-4 group stage draw with Portugal that followed a 7-1 defeat of the Netherlands. They then swatted Romania aside 6-0 on Monday, 24 hours before Spain's last-eight fixture.
"To have a day extra for recovery and preparation – that was good," Skorovich said. "But I would not say that this factor will be of decisive importance. Russia and Spain are two experienced teams."