Debutants challenge Russia as Italy start defence

Runners-up for the last two UEFA Futsal EUROs, Russia start their bid against formidable debutants Kazakhstan before Italy launch their title defence versus Azerbaijan.

Can Azerbaijan captain Rizvan Farzaliyev wrest the trophy from Italy's Gabriel Lima?
Can Azerbaijan captain Rizvan Farzaliyev wrest the trophy from Italy's Gabriel Lima? ©Sportsfile

Runners-up for the last two UEFA Futsal EUROs, Russia start their bid against formidable debutants Kazakhstan before Italy launch their title defence versus Azerbaijan on the second day of action at Arena Belgrade.

TUESDAY RESULTS - follow links for highlights

Group A: Serbia 5-1 Slovenia
The hosts came from behind to win in front of an 11,000 crowd, a record for a group game.

Group B: Spain 5-2 Hungary
Hungary had their moments but Spain produced some brilliant goals.

WEDNESDAY'S GAMES

Beaten in the last two finals, and only ever twice out of the medals since the first tournament of 1996, Russia ought to be clear favourites against the sole debut qualifiers this time around, Kazakhstan. But the strength of the Kazakhstani game will be all too clear to those that follow the club UEFA Futsal Cup, as Kairat Almaty have won two of the last three editions, both times beating Russian opposition in the finals.

Watch: Kairat beat Barcelona for club title
Watch: Kairat beat Barcelona for club title

Kairat supply eight of the 14-man Kazakhstan squad, along with Cacau, who coaches both teams. That said, Russia remain many people's tips to take the title in Belgrade, thanks to the spectacular goalscoring of Eder Lima, the abiity of Vladislav Shayakhmetov and the goalkeeping of Gustavo among a host of stars.

Group C team guides: Russia, Kazakhstan, Croatia

Player to watch: Higuita (Kazakhstan) – Kairat's charismatic keeper is not only difficult to beat but is just as accomplished in outfield, even able to chip in with vital goals.

Key number: 1 – this is the first match played by a Kazakhstan squad at any senior UEFA national-team final tournament.

Russia's 2014 finals top scorer Eder Lima
Russia's 2014 finals top scorer Eder Lima©Sportsfile

Eder Lima, Russia forward: "Our aim is to win the competition. I hope everything goes well for us. We know that Europe's strongest club Kairat are from Kazakhstan. We are facing a difficult match."

Higuita, Kazakhstan goalkeeper: "The team is 100% ready. We can't wait for the tournament to begin for us. We do not belong to the group of favourites. The favourites for the title are Russia, Portugal, Spain and Italy. All the rest are at a slightly lower level, but I would not be surprised if somebody from those more modest teams wins in the end."

They say the first game in any final tournament is the most important, though for Italy that did not prove the case in 2014 as they surprisingly lost to Slovenia, only to then beat Azerbaijan and go on to win their second European title. Twelve of that 14-man squad are back for Italy under Roberto Menichelli, and the new pair of Mauro Canal and Alessandro Patias add even more talent to the squad.

Azerbaijan reached the semi-finals on debut in 2010 but in the previous two tournaments fell in their group after proving leaky in defence. Since then, hugely experienced Spanish coach Tino Pérez has taken the helm and he is able to call on ten players from the club side he also leads, Araz Naxçivan.

Group D team guides: Italy, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic

Player to watch: Vitaliy Borisov (Azerbaijan) – if Azerbaijan are to upset the holders, Borisov's leadership and goals will surely be crucial.

Key number: 7 – Italy's 7-0 win against Azerbaijan in the 2014 group stage took the Azzurri through on their way to eventual triumph and eliminated their opponents, who had only required a draw.

Gabriel Lima, Italy captain: "We expect to face a team eager to avenge the heavy defeat suffered against us two years ago. I know that they have some new players and also a new coach who has a lot of quality and experience. I think they changed their style of play and what we'll have to do is to adapt as quickly as possible to their characteristics."

Amadeu, Azerbaijan: "We couldn't ask for a tougher first match in the tournament. Not only are we facing the reigning champions but also the team who thrashed us in the last EURO. That 7-0 defeat was painful but I believe that this time around things will be different."

THURSDAY'S ACTION

Group A: Slovenia v Portugal (18.30)
Portugal, with key man Cardinal suspended for the group stage but Ricardinho present and correct, face a Slovenia side fresh from Tuesday's defeat against hosts Serbia.

Group B: Hungary v Ukraine (21.00)
Ukraine's runs to the finals of 2001 and 2003 are a while back now but they remain a difficult side to beat. Hungary need a result after losing to Spain.

Now watch ...

Spain's five-goal start


Top