"It's all been beautiful up to now, and we all believe we can win it," said Veneto coach Fabrizio Toniutto as his side prepare for a UEFA Regions' Cup final meeting with Selección Catalana.
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The UEFA Regions' Cup final will be a meeting between Italian and Spanish opponents, and hosts Veneto – who won the first UEFA Regions' Cup back in 1999, beating Spanish representatives Madrid 3-2 after extra-time in the final – are taking nothing for granted. "The expectations on us are very high, but we are very, very humble with our feet firmly on the ground; we know it will be a very difficult game," Toniutto told UEFA.com.
Toniutto's task has been made that much more difficult by the suspension of Franco Ballarini, the finals' four-goal top scorer, but he hoped that would inspire the rest of the team. "Franco is really disappointed, but let's say that I expect the rest of the squad to respond and pull tighter together as a group to give that little bit extra which Franco has given us so far," said the coach. "He's a player who gives everything. We absolutely want to win it for him.
"I think the styles of play these two nations have will ensure the final will be of the highest order because we are two sides who play good football," he added. "We have followed Selección Catalana's progress here and we know it is going to be a spectacular final which will do justice to the prestige of this tournament. All the pre-tournament predictions said they would be in the final, and that has proved to be the case."
However, if Selección Catalana's progress was widely predicted, coach Toni Almendros was adamant that it was no small task to meet expectations. "It has been very difficult, but we have reached our first target," he told UEFA.com. "All of the teams have shown an extraordinary level for amateurs. They were clearly here because they are the best teams in Europe. It was a very hard journey to the final."
Veneto will be a mightily tough nut to crack, as Almendros knows only too well. "They pass like a tornado and they have scored six goals here and only conceded one – and that was a penalty," he said. "They are strong and we have been studying their game closely, but we have our own strengths and we can beat them."
How long that will take is another matter. UEFA Regions' Cup finals are notoriously close; only four of the first seven editions have been settled inside 90 minutes, and the final winning margin has never been more than a single goal. Spain's 6-5 shoot-out success against Italy in Thursday's FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final might be an indication of what lies ahead for the teams in Abano Terme. "It's a very real possibility," sighed Almendros. "It could be that it goes to penalties."