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Kairat and Sporting put ambitions to the test

Hosts Kairat Almaty are looking to home support in "a huge event for Kazakhstan" ahead of their semi-final against a Sporting Clube de Portugal team seeking to set a unique record.

João Carlos Barbosa and Orlando Duarte (third and fourth from left) eye the prize
João Carlos Barbosa and Orlando Duarte (third and fourth from left) eye the prize ©Sportsfile

Both teams are chasing a dream but only one will have the chance to fulfil it after Sporting Clube de Portugal and tournament hosts Kairat Almaty meet in the first of Friday's 2010/11 UEFA Futsal Cup semi-finals.

Kairat, staging Kazakhstan's first UEFA final tournament at any level, go into their fourth semi-final in six seasons eager to take that next step – and go on to land the trophy. Sporting, meanwhile, want not only to stamp their name on the futsal map by taking the crown won last year by Lisbon rivals SL Benfica. They also intend to become the first club in Europe to be continental champions in five different sports, subject to triumphing here.

Yet the hosts, who align a generous local owner in Kairat Orazbekov with a blue-chip Brazilian coach, João Carlos Barbosa, and captain, Kelson, have invested great hopes in this tournament. After their competition-best performance of third place in 2009, can home advantage finally take them over the line?

"I would say our team have the same chance as the rest," said Barbosa. "But I think we can get to the final and win. After a defeat like 2009 [5-0 in the semi-finals by Interviú Madrid], you look for things to take you forward, and from that experience we have been able to build a solid team which has got us to the semi-finals. The public, the press, everyone is really excited – this is a huge event for Kazakhstan."

Kelson, who helped Kairat top elite round Group C at their Baluan Sholak Sport Palace, expects the same home crowd to play their part. "The crowd have a key role," he said. "They really helped us in qualification. We had difficult moments and they got us through them."

Whether the Brazilian can lift a third UEFA Futsal Cup after victories with Action 21 Charleroi and MFK Dinamo Moskva also depends on Sporting. The third-place finishers at home in 2002 have Cardinal, their joint-top scorer in qualifying, suspended on Friday, yet they count on the know-how of coach Orlando Duarte. He led Portugal to the runners-up spot at UEFA Futsal EURO 2010 before rejoining Sporting after a decade away – and is keen to continue an upward trend for the Portuguese game.

"It was a really important experience for Portugal at the Futsal EURO and you can also add Benfica [winning this tournament], so it's been a great time for Portuguese futsal," Duarte said. "We are a team with character and we think we can win."

While Kairat were seeded past the main round, Sporting came through that stage before knocking out Spain's ElPozo Murcia FS in Lisbon. Those efforts may reap rewards, according to goalkeeping captain João Benedito.

"We are going into the last four with an ambition that isn't just for the futsal team but for the whole club," he said. "This isn't just about winning a European trophy. Because in Europe there are only two clubs that have been continental champions in four different sports – Sporting and Barcelona. Now we want to become the only club with five crowns."