With Portugal’s sensational triumph at Futsal EURO 2018 still fresh in the memory, the focus shifts to the UEFA Futsal Cup finals as Inter target a record fifth title.
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Winning a title is one thing; successfully defending it is quite another. And for Inter FS ace Ricardinho, the challenge ahead is a big one as the UEFA Futsal Cup holders prepare to return to the final-four tournament.
“It gets harder and harder,” Ricardinho said. “People are going to see us as the team to beat. We’ve won the Liga four years in a row, secured three Copas and have been in the Futsal Cup final four three times [in a row].”
And after their impressive 7-0 victory against Sporting Clube de Portugal in last year’s final, a record fifth UEFA Futsal Cup title in Zaragoza is a distinct possibility.
Joining Inter in the semi-finals are Sporting, looking to avenge last season’s final defeat, Hungarian side Győri ETO FC, the first Hungarian club to reach that stage of the competition, and another Spanish powerhouse, FC Barcelona, winners in both 2012 and 2014.
“I think it will be a really good final four, with four very strong teams,” Ricardinho said. “I want to congratulate Győr, who have shown that anything is possible even if you’re not the biggest name. Sporting have shown they’re really strong again and that they want to win the trophy. Barça are all-powerful and they will try to win. We also have something to say, though, and we’re going to give our all to get to the final.”
The semi-final draw was held at half-time in Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League match against Chelsea on 14 March, and with two Spanish and a Portuguese side in the final four, there is a distinctly Iberian feel to the final tournament.
Add to that the presence in the Győr ranks of Juanra – a champion with Inter in 2009 – and former Barça favourite Javier Rodriguez as coach. Twice a UEFA Futsal Cup winner with Playas de Castellón FC and once with Barcelona, Rodriguez is thrilled to be back on the biggest stage.
“It’s a special competition,” he said. “It’s Europe’s premier futsal competition and the one that everyone wants to play in and win. Knowing when you lift that trophy you’re the king of Europe is the best prize there is. It’s an incredible feeling. You can win your country’s domestic league, but to lift that trophy is only for the best side in Europe.”
It is the fourth time since the final-four tournament was introduced in 2007 that the event will have been held in Spain, with the 10,700-capacity Pabellón Príncipe Felipe in Zaragoza hosting all four matches this year, from 20 to 22 April.
The final-four tournament is the culmination of a competition involving a record 56 clubs from an unprecedented 52 UEFA member associations. It took 120 matches over three rounds to determine the four semi-finalists, and having got this far again, Ricardinho is not about to let the trophy slip from his grasp.
The Portuguese star was at his best as he led his nation to their first Futsal EURO title in Ljubljana on 10 February and, although he picked up an injury in the final, he remains focused on this next goal. “We’re here and we want to win the title again,” he said. “We know it’s not easy, but people will have to keep Inter in mind.”
Győri ETO FC v Sporting CP
Inter FS v FC Barcelona
Match for third place
This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 176