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Serbia v Russia: semi-final preview

UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 hosts Serbia are in their first semi-final and hope to delight another full Arena Belgrade by defeating 1999 champions Russia, runners-up in the last two editions.

Russia coach Sergei Skorovich (left) and his Serbia counterpart Aca Kovačević
Russia coach Sergei Skorovich (left) and his Serbia counterpart Aca Kovačević ©Sportsfile

Another capacity Arena Belgrade crowd will be hoping for more celebrations on Thursday as UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 hosts Serbia attempt to defeat Russia in the first semi-final.

This is already uncharted territory for Serbia, who, like Croatia four years ago, have reached a first semi-final on home ground. Russia have been in the last two finals and five overall, winning in 1999, and beat Serbia 2-1 in FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifying in December. They also overcame hosts Croatia 4-2 before a record crowd in the last four in 2012.

However, Serbia have proved hugely impressive so far, starting with a convincing win against Slovenia, a defeat of Ricardinho's Portugal and then ousting Ukraine in the quarter-finals with 0.3 seconds to go. Russia are yet to fully convince, surviving a group scare against Croatia, but their 6-2 quarter-final victory over Azerbaijan showed that many people's pre-tournament picks are moving through the gears.

What they say:
Miloš Simić
, Serbia player

We are already a part of Serbian sporting history. Look at the situation now: we will play in a full arena in our home country for a medal at the EURO. Who would have believed this before the start of the tournament? Probably no one – except us! Even the interest here in Belgrade was much more cloudy at the start, but now you see all the euphoria.

Regarding Russia, I can say only that every team has their shortcomings – nobody is perfect. I even think that we are physically on the same level, but Russia are much more experienced in playing decisive matches and they have always been at least in the semi-finals of big tournaments in recent years. We won't be disappointed if we lose, but we will leave everything on the pitch.

Serbia's last-second winner

Vladislav Shayakhmetov, Russia player
I have big expectations, it is a semi-final. The strongest team will make it through so no mistakes are allowed. I have had a long career and have experience of playing in front of so many people, even more in Brazil. I can say, as a player, I don't care how many people are there – the more the better. But for Serbia it will be like a sixth player and a big motivation for them.

[Compared to the Serbia side they played in December in Izmir] they will be a different team, in front of so many fans it is always different. And when Serbian clubs play at home, it is always a different matter. However, they are strong not only because of their fans but because of their ability.

Road to semi-finals
Serbia: Slovenia 5-1, Portugal 3-1 (Group A winners), Ukraine 2-1
Russia: Kazakhstan 2-1, Croatia 2-2 (Group C winners), Azerbaijan 6-2

Head-to-head: Played 11, Serbia wins 1, Russia wins 10, draws 0. Goals: Serbia 18-33 Russia

Russia power into semis

Key factors

  • The home fans, turning up in record numbers, have clearly given Serbia an extra edge so far and can help them make up the gap in experience and reputation to Russia.
  • Russia's attack has been slow to get going in this tournament, at least until late on against Azerbaijan. It was offensive prowess that got them to the 2014 final and Serbia are not easy to break down.
  • Serbia love to attack early, even at the expense of giving up a goal, and those initial exchanges will determine if they can get the better of Russia.

Players to watch
Serbia: Miodrag Aksentijević – Serbia's goalkeeper has had a great tournament so far and his charismatic presence has helped inspire the team.

Russia: Eder Lima – the 2014 top scorer got off the mark with a hat-trick against Azerbaijan. If he can stay in the goals, Russia should be fine.

Will miss final/third-place play-off if booked
Serbia: Miodrag Aksentijević, Mladen Kocić, Miloš Stojković

Russia: Nikolai Pereverzev, Dmitri Lyskov, Danil Kutuzov