Kairat triumph is first for Kazakhstan
Kairat Almaty became the first Kazakhstani team to claim a UEFA title with their triumph in Tbilisi – and did it the hard way with thrilling wins against FC Barcelona and MFK Dinamo.
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To become your nation's first ever UEFA champions would be notable enough, but the way Kairat Almaty took the European futsal title to Kazakhstan made it even more memorable.
No side from Kazakhstan had ever played in a UEFA final before at any level. Having lost four previous UEFA Futsal Cup semi-finals, Kairat overcame holders FC Barcelona 5-4 to advance to the decider in Tbilisi, where they held off 2007 winners MFK Dinamo and prevailed 4-3 over 40 minutes.
Nor was this the only piece of history made. Never before had Georgia hosted a UEFA final tournament, Iberia Star Tbilisi given the honour having reached the last four for the first time at the 12th attempt – the only club to have entered every edition of the competition. Iberia Star went into the finals having changed their coach and much of their squad in the build-up, and perhaps it showed as Dinamo knocked them out, 5-2, in front of a noisy 7,200 crowd at the Tbilisi Palace of Sport.
However, it was in the second semi-final that the drama really began. Deploying goalkeeper Higuita as a virtual outfield player, former Kairat player Cacau – who became coach only in February – outfoxed Barcelona tactically as a Fumasa hat-trick inflicted the holders' first ever European defeat.
Cacu described that victory as "historic" yet there was more to come in the final. Dinamo were in a joint-record fifth showpiece 12 months on from losing to Barcelona in Lleida, and were narrow favourites. They were fortunate to go in at half-time level at 1-1 after a late equaliser, but seemed out of it as Leo Santana, Fumasa and – with a long-range punt – Higuita put Kairat 4-1 up.
The drama was only just starting, however. A Higuita clearance rebounded in off Cirilo and then Tatù made it 4-3 with three minutes left. Dinamo surged forward, hitting the post twice in the last few seconds before the Kairat celebrations could finally commence.
"When I arrived morale was very low," Cacau said. "I took Betão and Euler and talked to them. Joan too, since my arrival, has been key to my tactics. Joan and Higuita were the keys to getting to the final."
Joan, himself a former Dinamo and Iberia Star player, added: "I hope we will be able to grow from this and become regular finalists. I was happy to find out the finals would be played in Tbilisi, because I know the city quite well. I have lots of friends here and from now on I will love Tbilisi even more, because here I've experienced the happiest day of my life."