Inter double up for fifth UEFA Futsal Cup
Inter FS became only the second team to retain the title in 2018, their fifth victory bringing an end to the UEFA Futsal Cup era.
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Appropriately the UEFA Futsal Cup era came to an end with a record-breaking victory for the competition's dominant club, Inter FS.
After 17 seasons, the 2017/18 UEFA Futsal Cup was the last before the competition was relaunched as the UEFA Futsal Champions League. And of those 17 finals, Inter had now won five, three more than anyone else.
They retained the title in Zaragoza with a 5-2 victory against Sporting CP, the same team they beat 7-0 in the final 12 months earlier in Almaty. Inter became only the second team to retain the UEFA Futsal Cup, after Spanish compatriots Playas de Castellón in the inaugural seasons of 2001/02 and 2002/03. They also equalled Playas' record of 13 straight European victories.
Although the rebranding was still to come, the format change already happened this time around. For the first time, three nations were guaranteed two entries – increased to four as holders Inter also qualified as national champions – meaning Spain, Portugal, Russia and Italy had a pair of representatives. In all a record 56 clubs entered from 52 associations, including inaugural Northern Irish contenders Belfast United.
The elite round matched Inter with two-time winners, and 2017 finals hosts, Kairat Almaty, the Spanish side winning an exciting decider 5-3 at home. Dual champions Barcelona and twice runners-up Sporting, like Inter, claimed a maximum nine points but the big shock was the other finals qualifiers Győr. Their success was a triumph for coach Javi Rodriguez, a three-time UEFA Futsal Cup winner as a player, appointed just before their European campaign started.
With two Spanish finalists, the previous practice of awarding final four hosting rights to a single club was put to one side, with the venue Zaragoza, neatly halfway between Barcelona and Inter's Madrid base. The Pabellón Príncipe Felipe was close to its 10,700 capacity for both nights.
By half-time of the first semi-final Győr were 5-0 down to Sporting including two goals for Cardinal, keen to earn a European title having missed Portugal's UEFA Futsal EURO 2018 triumph injured, though the Lions did provide Pedro Cary, João Matos, André Sousa and Pany Varela to that victorious squad in Ljubljana. Győr rallied in the second half but were eventually beaten 6-1.
All the anticipation on semi-final night, though, was for the all-Spanish showdown between Inter and Barcelona, and they did not disappoint in a rip-roaring game. Inter won 2-1, Ortiz scoring either side of an Esquerdinha goal, the second year running he had struck the semi-final match-winner. Inter were into their eighth final and third in a row, equalling a record twice set by Dynamo.
Barcelona did take the consolation of third place with a 7-1 defeat of Győr, keeping up their record of at least a medal in all five of their European campaigns. Esquerdinha's hat-trick took his finals tally to four goals, equalling a record he himself already shared having also scored for ISK Dina Moskva in 2015.
But now the question came – could Sporting get any closer to Inter than in their 7-0 final defeat 12 months earlier? Yes and no. Sporting did get closer but were to be beaten 5-2, among Inter's scorers an inspired Ricardinho with his eighth career final four goal, matching another record set by Esquerdinha against Győr earlier that day. Inter dedicated their victory to kit man Cecilio Rodríguez, who died the previous month, presenting the trophy to his widow.