Azerbaijan made a superb finals debut in 2010, reaching the semis, and are now in their fourth straight tournament with coach Faustino Pérez overseeing a change of generation.
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With the sport of mini-football having been popular in the former Soviet Union, and an Azerbaijani league structure set up after independence, it naturally followed that Azerbaijan should enter the 1996 FIFA Futsal World Cup. They failed to qualify, however, and that quickly became a recurring theme until they made their breakthrough at UEFA Futsal EURO 2010.
Under Alesio – a Brazilian coach who had enjoyed serial success with Kairat Almaty – Azerbaijan reached the 2010 semi-finals as big-stage debutants and they are now in their fourth straight tournament. The team were eliminated in the last two group stages after coming out second-best in high-scoring games, including a 9-8 loss to Serbia in 2012 and 7-0 defeat by Italy in 2014 (when they at least beat Slovakia 7-6).
Long-time coach Alesio subsequently left to be replaced by the even more experienced Faustino Pérez, a Spaniard who won the first two UEFA Futsal Cups with Playas de Castellón in 2002 and 2003, among other achievements. With stalwarts like Biro Jade no longer involved, Pérez is building a new-look squad which he hopes will be "very solid and hard to beat".
3 February: v Italy, 21.00 (head to head P1 W0 D0 L1 F0 A7)
5 February: v Czech Republic, 21.00 (head to head P5 W1 D0 L4 F17 A27)
- Key facts
Best performance: fourth place (2010)
Players to watch: Vitaliy Borisov, Augusto, Amadeu
- Three questions: Faustino Pérez, coach
How have you enjoyed the role you now have in Azerbaijan?
I try to carry out my work with all my knowledge and professionalism. It is not just me who is quite new to the team, there are many players who are newcomers. We are still building the team for 2016. There are not that many experienced players in the national side now. However, we have to be proud of our young generation who will take part in this tournament in Serbia. They are young but ambitious and disciplined. Whether that helps us reach at least the quarter-finals, we will see.
In previous final tournaments Azerbaijan let in a lot of goals – have you made your team better in defence?
With the new players there is also a new concept coming into our game. There have been changes in our defence from the last championship and I am certain that with the right preparations for this EURO we can be very solid and hard to beat.
In the past Azerbaijan were quite reliant on a core of six or seven players – have you changed this to allow for more squad rotation?
A deep squad is absolutely one of our aims for the future of this team. We have already been able to rotate more in recent matches and beyond the spine of six there are always others there to help. New players are coming in with fresh ideas and we have to use all their potential.