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Spain v Kazakhstan: semi-final preview

Six-time champions Spain continue their bid to win back the title when they take on finals debutants Kazakhstan, who will be without key man Higuita due to suspension.

Kazakhstan face their greatest challenge without their most important player
Kazakhstan face their greatest challenge without their most important player ©Sportsfile

As if facing six-time champions Spain in the last four on Thursday was not hard enough for finals debutants Kazakhstan, they must do so without their key player.

The rise of Kazakhstan, and two-time UEFA Futsal Cup winners Kairat Almaty, under Cacau has been in no small part down to goalkeeper Higuita, whose ability to play outfield helps them keep possession for long periods.

However, in the sensational 5-2 quarter-final defeat of holders Italy, Higuita received his second booking of the tournament and is suspended against Spain.

Chingiz Yesenamanov was also injured late on and were he to miss the game, many people's convinction that this match is Spain's to win would be strengthened.

Spain lost at this stage to Russia in 2014, ending a nine-year reign as champions, but have been hugely impressive in Belgrade and were comfortable in Monday's quarter-final against Portugal despite two Ricardinho goals.

What they say:
José Venancio López, Spain coach

It's going to be a very difficult match for us. Kazakhstan are in the semi-finals on merit and they have been performing in a very interesting way throughout the tournament. Cacau is a great strategist and for sure he will use all the strengths of his team for tomorrow's match.

They always try to control their matches and against us it will be just like that, even if they don't have Higuita. They will try to wait for the perfect moment in order to surprise us. Higuita will not play, but for sure Cacau will have a surprise up his sleeve. What we need to do is to be prepared and to avoid being surprised. At the same time, we'll need to be ready to take our chances.

Cacau, Kazakhstan coach
To face Spain with Higuita is already very hard, but without him it gets a lot harder. In Higuita we lose much more than our key attacking player; we also lose the best goalkeeper on the planet. Having said that, we'll need to keep believing in our work and quality.

Spain are favourites, of course, but sometimes you get the result you need when you work hard. Higuita is the one player who makes our team different, but we have alternatives and we will see that tomorrow. I can tell you straight away that we will still play five against four tomorrow. That's my game strategy and I won't change just because Higuita can't play. I'm not afraid of playing like that. I wasn't afraid against Italy and I won't be afraid against Spain. I've won a lot of trophies in my career, including two UEFA Futsal Cups, but the win against Italy was the most important one for me. To beat the European champions with Kazakhstan ... you can't top that.

Spain are very dangerous from set pieces and they are especially deadly when they find themselves one or two goals up. From that point on they control the match like no other team and we'll need to do our best to avoid that. We have to score first, like we did against Italy.

Kazakhstan oust holders Italy

Road to semi-finals
Spain: Hungary 5-2, Ukraine 4-1 (Group B wiinners), Portugal 6-2
Kazakhstan: Russia 1-2, Croatia 4-2 (Group C runners-up), Italy 5-2

Head-to-head: Played 2, Spain wins 2, Kazakhstan wins 0, draws 0. Goals: Spain 12-0 Kazakhstan

Key factors

  • How will Kazakhstan cope without Higuita? The goalkeeper is not only important at the back, he is also a key part of their attacking and possession game and has been at the centre of Kazakhstan and Kairat's success under Cacau.
  • Yesenamanov's injury, if he is ruled out, further complicates matters for Kazakhstan, who have relied heavily on a core of six or seven players in their squad to rotate during games. Yesenamanov is a key component of their attack, proving especially so against Italy.
  • Spain have yet to show weakness in any area and have been especially clinical going forward. Paco Sedano has been up there with any goalkeeper in Belgrade too; even at full strength, Kazakhstan would have had their hands full.
  • The is not entirely new territory for Kazakhstan: in their pre-UEFA days they reached the first two AFC Asian Futsal Championship semi-finals, in 1999 and 2000, finishing runners-up in the latter year.
Spain surge past Portugal

Players to watch
Spain: Alex – with so many pre-tournament injuries in attack, some wondered how Spain would cope, but they have barely missed a step and the flair of Alex has been particularly valuable.

Kazakhstan: Grigori Shamro – Back-up goalkeeper Shamro started games before Higuita (and Kazakhstan's) emergence, but he has never faced an occasion like this.

Will miss final/third-place play-off if booked
Spain: Lin

Kazakhstan: Dinmukhambet Suleimenov, Chingiz Yesenamanov (Higuita will be available on Saturday)

Spain skil challenge: Pola and Andresito