Seven of the 12 places at UEFA Futsal EURO 2018 in Slovenia will be decided when the main round is played between Saturday and Tuesday, with Spain beginning their title defence.
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The UEFA Futsal EURO 2018 qualifying main round takes place on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday with seven spots at the finals, alongside hosts Slovenia, to be decided as well as the eight nations heading for the play-offs.
How does the round work?
The seven groups are played as one-venue mini-tournaments with games on Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. The group winners advance to join Slovenia in the final tournament. The seven runners-up plus the best third-placed side will enter the play-offs on 10–13 & 24–27 September 2017. The winners of these four two-legged ties will complete the 12-team line-up for the finals.
• Two-time winners Italy face two sides with Futsal EURO experience in the Netherlands and Belarus, the latter having missed out on the 2016 finals in the play-offs against the Czech Republic. In 2014 qualifying, the Netherlands defeated Georgia 7-3 to reach the play-offs en route to the finals, in a group where Belarus were beaten by both these teams.
Group B: Azerbaijan (hosts), Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania
• Azerbaijan have qualified for the last four tournaments and also made their FIFA Futsal World Cup debut last year, getting to the quarter-finals. Hungary also qualified in 2016 whereas Bosnia and Herzegovina lost in the play-offs. Albania's preliminary round success was the first time they had safely negotiated a stage of this competition.
Group C: Ukraine (hosts), Croatia, Belgium, Montenegro
• Two-time runners-up Ukraine are aiming for an eighth straight qualification while Croatia have also participated in the last three final tournaments. Belgium lost 9-2 to Ukraine in 2016 qualifying and are now coached by former goalkeeper Luca Cragnaz.
Group D: Portugal, Romania (hosts), Finland, Latvia
• Portugal, the 2010 runners-up, captured headlines in 2016 with the spectacular play of Ricardinho during their progress to the World Cup semi-finals. Meanwhile, in EURO 2016 qualifying, the Portuguese had wracked up a 4-1 group victory over Romania, who subsequently crashed out in the play-offs to a last-gasp Hungary goal.
Group E: Spain (holders), Serbia, Poland (hosts), Moldova
• Spain reclaimed the continental title in 2016 and have won seven of the ten past editions. Serbia advanced to the semi-finals as hosts last time out.
Group F: Kazakhstan (hosts), Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Denmark
• Kazakhstan landed the bronze medal on their finals debut in 2016 though latterly coach Cacau has stepped down to be replaced by assistant Alesio. The Czechs have not missed a EURO since 1999.
Group G: Russia, Slovakia, Turkey (hosts), France
• Russia lost in the final of both the Futsal EURO and the World Cup in 2016. Slovakia succumbed to Azerbaijan in the 2016 play-offs, and Turkey qualified in 2012.
When are the finals?
30 January to 10 February 2018 at Arena Stožice, Ljubljana
I heard Futsal EURO was changing: when does that happen?
Until now, the finals have been played every two years and, from 2010 onwards, they have involved 12 teams. This, however, will be the last time with that format, because starting in 2022 it will become a 16-team final tournament held every four years – one of a number of changes and additions to UEFA's futsal competitions announced this week.