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UEFA Futsal EURO daily preview: Kazakhstan vs Slovenia, Italy vs Finland

We preview the action in Group B with three established forces and one finals debutants opening their campaigns.

Italy are aiming for a third title
Italy are aiming for a third title Getty Images

UEFA Futsal EURO 2022 Group B begins on Thursday with the first two games at Groningen's MartiniPlaza.

We preview the games with three established forces and one finals debutants opening their campaigns.

Kazakhstan vs Slovenia (17:30 CET, Groningen)

Kazakhstan's first Futsal EURO finals appearance was only in 2016 but having made the semis twice in a row, and matched that at last year's FIFA Futsal World Cup – losing only on penalties to Portugal, as they did against Spain at EURO 2018 – they travel to the Netherlands with a real shot at the title. As always they are based around the strong Kairat Almaty squad, sharing a coach in Kaká, with the likes of forward-running goalkeeper Higuita, Douglas Junior, Dauren Tursagulov, Chingiz Yesenamanov and new Kazakhstan call-up Edson bolstered by Taynan, now with Murcia FS.

Futsal EURO: Goalscoring keepers
Futsal EURO: Goalscoring keepers

Slovenia, though, are well established at this level, knocking out Italy to reach the quarter-finals as hosts in 2018. Kristjan Čujec recently bowed out of the team due to injury but Igor Osredkar, Gašper Vrhovec and Alen Fetić are familiar faces in a squad long on experience.

Kakà, Kazakhstan coach: "We know the Slovenian team very well. We played them a couple of years ago and could only beat them in the last few minutes. We know it's going to be a very tough game, but we're looking forward to it and we want to start this tournament with a win."

Tomislav Horvat, Slovenia coach: "The atmosphere within the team is really good. We are very focused. Kazakhstan are the favourites. They have played in the World Cup and EURO semi-finals in recent years, but I watch my team train and we will give everything to win this game, which is very important from a psychological point of view."

Key stat: Tursagulov scored with 35 seconds left to give Kazakhstan a comeback 4-3 win against Slovenia in what proved a crucial February 2020 World Cup qualifier.

Italy vs Finland (20:30 CET, Groningen)

Italy have never missed a Futsal EURO final tournament and lifted the trophy in 2003 and 2014; Finland are the first of four teams making their debut in this expanded 16-nation event. The Azzurri, much changed from their 2018 disappointment (but with Alex Merlim and Giuliano Fortini available despite pre-finals doubts), know they have no easy task; they might have beaten Finland twice in their qualifying group for this tournament last year but in early 2020 a 2-2 draw between the teams was crucial as Italy were pipped to a World Cup play-off spot.

Finland are led by experienced captain Panu Autio
Finland are led by experienced captain Panu AutioUEFA via Sportsfile

Finland lost that play-off 6-5 on aggregate to Serbia, the latest in a series of qualifying near-misses ever since the hugely experienced Mićo Martić (who spent much of his playing career in Italy) took over as coach of the long-time minnows in 2013. Their historic first finals spot was then sealed in April with a thrilling 3-2 victory against Belgium.

Massimiliano Bellarte, Italy coach: "We know it's going to be a tough game, because Finland are a tough team. If they make the game physical, we can suffer. But we will try to control the game and have the ball. We have to be aggressive and try not to be stretched too much in defence."

Mico Martić, Finland coach: "Italy have good players despite the absentees. They will try to make amends after the last few tournaments. I think we will give everything to play against Italy. We are calm before the game. But as the match gets closer the nerves will increase."

Key stat: Italy's group exit in 2018 was the first time they had failed to make the Futsal EURO last eight in any format.