Croatia, Czech Republic look for early progress

Croatia start their Group C campaign by taking on a debutant Kazakhstan side who ran Russia close while the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan look to end recent group hoodoos.

Michal Belej and his Czech colleagues hope to end their run of two straight group exits
©Sportsfile

Croatia and the Czech Republic are the last two teams to begin their UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 campaigns, and both know victories on Friday would take them through. Kazakhstan are Croatia's opponents while Azerbaijan's meeting with the Czech Republic brings back happy memories for both teams of their 2010 semi-final runs.

THURSDAY RESULTS

Group A: Slovenia 2-6 Portugal
Ricardinho scores a hat-trick of the highest quality to take Portugal through with hosts Serbia and eliminate Slovenia.

Group B: Hungary 3-6 Ukraine
After a pulsating game, Ukraine are through with Spain and Hungary are out. Spain or Ukraine will play Portugal or Serbia in Monday's quarter-finals; who meets who is decided on Saturday,

FRIDAY'S GAMES

Kazakhstan were expected to impress as debutants and indeed they did despite opening by losing 2-1 to Russia. They were undone by two strikes within seconds of each other from Romulo, but the tactic of using goalkeeper Higuita as an outfield player for long stretches, just as coach Cacau does for Kairat Almaty, pinned Russia back. However, defeat would mean Kazakhstan's elimination and Cacau needs Higuita, Douglas and Leo to get over knocks that restricted them against Russia.

Croatia start knowing victory would book a third straight knockout slot, and with Russia to come on Sunday, Mato Stanković's side will not want qualification to still be undecided by then.

Player to watch: Dario Marinović (Croatia) – Croatia's star man for several years.

Key number: 3 – Croatia drew both their group games 3-3 in 2014 with late equalisers from flying goalkeeper Matija Capar (not in the squad this time).

Cacau, Kazakhstan coach: "Croatia have two big players, Dario Marinović and Franko Jelovčić, so we must deploy totally different tactics to the ones we used against Russia."

Azerbaijan fought hard against holders Italy but Amadeu's sending-off late in the first half was punished swiftly by the Azzurri and set up a 3-0 final scoreline. That means a loss against the side that beat them to 2010 bronze would condemn Azerbaijan to their third straight group exit, and Amadeu's suspension will hardly help.

The Czech Republic have themselves departed in both group stages since their 2010 run. Stalwart brothers Roman and Michal Mareš both miss out due to injury but they also did so in 2010, when the Czechs lost 6-1 to Azerbaijan in the group stage only to defeat them 5-3 for third place.

Highlights: Italy 3-0 Azerbaijan
Highlights: Italy 3-0 Azerbaijan

Player to watch: Lukáš Rešetár (Czech Republic) – Rešetár will have a leadership role in the absence of both Mareš brothers.

Key number: 13 – Azerbaijan conceded a total of 13 goals in their groups in both 2012 and 2014, ending the tournaments respectively with a 9-8 defeat by Serbia and 7-0 loss to Italy.

Augusto, Azerbaijan player: "We knew it would be very difficult against reigning champions Italy but now we have to focus our attention in beating the Czech Republic. It will be a very different match as Italy are much more aggressive. The Czechs defend deep and it will be hard for us to penetrate that but we'll work very hard to achieve our goal. I am sure we can still qualify for the quarter-finals."

Tomáš Neumann, Czech Republic coach: "We have relied on the Mareš brothers, maybe too much – now others must take responsibility."

Watch: Superb Spain goals
Watch: Superb Spain goals

SATURDAY'S ACTION

Group B: Ukraine v Spain (18.30)
Ukraine hold a goals scored advantage over Spain as they face for first place.

Group A: Portugal v Serbia (21.00)
Another 11,000 sell-out crowd will hope to see Serbia repeat the 5-1 win against Slovenia that opened the tournament. Portugal lead Serbia on goals scored.

Now watch ...

Russia's stunning goals against Kazakhstan

Watch Romulo's stunning strikes
Watch Romulo's stunning strikes
Top