Having been UEFA Futsal EURO holders since 2005, Spain were expected to triumph again in Antwerp, but Italy captain Gabriel Lima ensured a different outcome.
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UEFA Futsal EURO holders since 2005, Spain were expected to prevail again in Antwerp last February, but Italy captain Gabriel Lima ensured a different outcome as the 2003 winners reclaimed the trophy.
2014 in short
The highlight arrived early for Lima, with the finals played in late January and early February. Various Spanish players had lifted the EURO prize in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012, but this time it was Lima who captained the champions, following in the footsteps of Salvatore Zaffiro, Italy's skipper in their 2003 home triumph. Among his rewards was a summer move to one of the big names in futsal, Spanish giants Murcia FS.
Road to Antwerp
Lima first came to prominence in 2008 as one of the outstanding players in the one-off UEFA European Under-21 Futsal Tournament where, over the campaign, he was overall joint top scorer on nine goals as he led Italy to the St Petersburg final. There, they lost 5-4 in extra time to Russia, but revenge was to come a few years later. Meanwhile, Lima established himself as both top performer in Serie A1 and a key man for Italy's seniors, taking bronze at UEFA Futsal EURO 2012 and that year's FIFA Futsal World Cup.
Appointed captain for Italy's UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 qualifiers, Lima scored in all three main round games as his team sailed into the finals. The opener in Antwerp was a bit of a disaster, though, as Slovenia secured a shock 3-2 victory. However, a subsequent 7-0 defeat of Azerbaijan, with Lima on target, confirmed Italy as group winners, and the skipper stepped up a gear in the quarter-finals, superb in both attack and defence as Croatia were dismissed 2-1.
Portugal awaited in the semi-finals and Lima excelled, netting from a first-minute Saad Assis corner and striking again later. But Lima's foremost contribution was in keeping Italy together whenever he was on the pitch during their thrilling 4-3 win. "Being captain gives you a certain responsibility; it takes something out of you in terms of performance," Lima told UEFA.com. "You give everything for the team but you don't manage to play at your very best. I was fully aware of it but tonight I think I did well."
The other semi also finished 4-3 as Russia dethroned Spain. That meant a rematch of the 2008 U21 final, with players from both those junior teams in action on each side. As he had two days earlier, Lima turned in an Assis corner to make it 1-0, and although Russia equalised, the skipper set up Murilo to restore the advantage. It would end 3-1 to Italy and the then 26-year-old Lima, perhaps the player of the tournament and winner of the adidas Bronze Boot, said: "Just think about the 1982 FIFA World Cup when Italy started with three draws and then became champions. By playing with the right fighting spirit and heart, we can achieve any objective."
The recipient of the trophy in 2012, Spain's Kike was not in Antwerp and retired at the end of the 2013/14 season. That left Murcia with a substantial hole to fill, not just in terms of Kike's talent but also his leadership and personality. They duly turned to Lima, who signed a three-year deal after leaving Asti. And, halfway through the current campaign, Murcia lie well placed to once again reach the Spanish play-offs – so perhaps Lima will go on to achieve a feat that eluded even Kike and win the UEFA Futsal Cup for the club.