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Comeback key to Bosnian triumph

Group 3: Bosnia-Herzegovina surprised Russia to reach the FIFA Futsal World Championship play-offs.

Bosnia-Herzegovina are into the play-offs for the FIFA Futsal World Championship after beating Russia and F.Y.R. Macedonia to win Group 3 in Sarajevo.

Opening victory
Russia, the 1999 UEFA European Futsal Championship winners and semi-finalists in the last two World Championships were tipped to progress in the Sports Hall Zetra, a venue for the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. And they proved their worth in the opening games by beating F.Y.R. Macedonia 6-4.

Hat-trick in vain
However, they were 3-2 down at half-time. Branislav Trajkovski put the Macedonians ahead only for Sergey Antipov and Serguei Malyshev to score for Russia. But Trajkovski equalised and Goran Mitev scored just before the break. Denis Abyshev and Antipov both struck in the 24th minute to put Russia ahead, though, and five minutes from the end Vladislav Shayakhmetev extended their lead. Trajkovski completed his hat-trick to pull one back, but his team-mate Marjan Petkovski was then sent off and Temur Alekberov confirmed Russia's win in the final seconds.

Bosnian comeback
So Russia knew a victory against the hosts would take them a step nearer another global campaign. And they made a perfect start; Aleksandr Antipov and Viatcheslav Moskalenko struck midway through the first half to give them a 2-0 lead at the break. But the Bosnians did not give up. Within five minutes of the re-start Alen Lalic pulled one back. And then Dalibor Duvnjak and Ramiz Ramic scored on 32 and 34 minutes to turn the game and secure their nation's first major Futsal tournament victory since 2000.

Hosts through
All three sides still had a hope of progressing when Bosnia-Herzegovina and F.Y.R. Macedonia met in the last deciding game - the Bosnians needing a point, the Macedonians a victory by at least three goals and Russia a narrower defeat for the hosts. But within six minutes Bosnia-Herzegovina were ahead through Damir Gljiva, and although Macedonian goalkeeper Miroslav Todorovski saved Josip Lokmer's penalty, Muamer Orucevic clinched a 2-0 win seven minutes from the end.

Win 'unexpected'
After the final victory, Bosnian coach Tomislav Curcic hailed his side's surprise progress. "This is a huge success. To beat Russia and gain first place was unexpected. But, with hard work we managed to surprise the spectators." His side now enter Thursday's play-off draw, with a two-legged encounter to follow on 10 and 17 December for one of five European places in Chinese Taipei in November 2004.