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UEFA Futsal EURO daily preview: Serbia vs Portugal, Netherlands vs Ukraine

The first 16-team tournament begins with holders Portugal opening the finals against Serbia and hosts Netherlands facing Ukraine.

Pany Varelai is hoping to inspire Portugal to another title
Pany Varelai is hoping to inspire Portugal to another title UEFA via Getty Images

The first 16-team UEFA Futsal EURO kicks off on Wednesday with holders Portugal opening the finals against Serbia and hosts Netherlands facing Ukraine in a Group A Ziggo Dome double-header.

We preview the action.

Serbia vs Portugal (17:30 CET, Amsterdam)

When Portugal kicked off the second day of action at UEFA Futsal EURO 2018, their reputation was as Europe's nearly team – perennial contenders but destined to fall short. Their 2016 campaign, which ended with spectacular goals by Ricardinho that went viral in losses to hosts Serbia and eventual champions Spain, was the epitome of their eye-catching disappointments. But a fortnight later Ricardinho had lifted the trophy in Ljubljana and Portugal were champions, adding the FIFA Futsal World Cup to their honours last year.

Ricardinho's Portugal retirement: his Futsal EURO highlights
Ricardinho's Portugal retirement: his Futsal EURO highlights

Ricardinho himself bowed out after the World Cup but the likes of João Matos, Bruno Coelho and Pany Varela plus new star pivot Zicky remain, though Cardinal, who was injured in 2018 as well as in the World Cup, was ruled out again on the eve of the finals. Serbia, despite needing a play-off to qualify, will be no pushovers: at the World Cup in September they ran Iran and Argentina close in group games before pushing Portugal all the way, losing 4-3 in extra time in the last 16. However, for this opener they are missing key man Jovan Lazarević as well as Lazar Milosavljević, Ninoslav Aleksić, Slobodan Rajčević and Nikola Matijević.

Dejan Majes, Serbia coach: "We think we can play a good game, we have experience. It’s not something new to be missing players. We want to play our best and give our all ... It’s hard to find any weakness in the Portugal team. But we showed in the World Cup that we can live with them."

Jorge Braz, Portugal coach: “[Serbia] have high quality, excellent players, top players. We have known that for several years. They can do amazing things at different moments of the match. We expect a very tough match, just as in the World Cup..But we trust a lot in what our team can do.”

Zicky, Portugal player: "There's already a bit of butterflies in my stomach, but I think that's part of it. This is a competition I have never participated in. It will certainly be more special. I've been listening to some positive advice. I am thinking about it and absorbing it in the best way."

Key stat: The last time the holders played the first game of a Futsal EURO was in 2005, when defending champions Italy won 8-3 against Portugal.

Netherlands vs Ukraine (20:30 CET, Amsterdam)

Netherlands train at the Ziggo Dome on Monday
Netherlands train at the Ziggo Dome on MondayANP Sport via Getty Images

The last time the Netherlands hosted a major event in this sport was the first World Cup in 1989, when they went all the way to the final. That this is only the second Dutch appearance in the EURO finals since 2005 shows the size of their task in matching that run, especially in such a tough group, but friendly performances in recent months against Slovenia, Italy, Argentina and Portugal have indicated the ability of Max Tjaden's team, who lost Mo Darri to a back injury on the eve of the finals.

Ukraine were EURO runners-up in 2001 and 2003 but no longer start among the main pre-tournament favourites: in all five 12-team finals between 2010 and 2018 they got past their group then exited in the last eight. Consistency, experience and squad depth nevertheless make them tricky first opponents for the hosts.

Max Tjaden, Netherlands coach: “Since 24 September 2019 we knew we would be in this tournament [as hosts]. We had a long wait. Now we feel a bit nervous, but that’s normal. Like the night before Sinterklaas [eve of 6 December when Santa Claus comes in the Netherlands]. That kind of tension – is he coming? I’m very excited, looking forward to a great tournament.”

Oleksandr Kosenko, Ukraine coach: "I think the Netherlands are really good tactically and they press very well. Of course we will try to use what we have learned about them to our advantage."

Key stat: The Netherlands' last finals win was 4-3 against hosts Czech Republic in 2005, two days after losing 4-1 to Ukraine; Tjaden played in both games.