Kairat Almaty have been told to go into the third-place play-off against SL Benfica with heads held high after giving consistently strong performances on the European stage.
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João Carlos Barbosa insists his Kairat Almaty side should treat Sunday's UEFA Futsal Cup third-place play-off like a final – because both they and opponents SL Benfica would be worthy of gracing the European club game's highest stage.
In the wake of the Kazakh team's fourth semi-final defeat in six years – by Sporting Clube de Portugal on Friday – the coach hailed the strength of this season's final tournament in Almaty, telling UEFA.com: "I would say that since I've been here at Kairat, this is the most balanced the competition has been – you have four really strong teams. Maybe Benfica stand out a little because they won the competition last year. But this season there's nothing to choose between us.
"It always hurts to lose but life goes on and in sport you always get an opportunity to bounce back quickly," added Kairat's Brazilian trainer, his focus switching to the 11.00CET (15.00 local time) kick-off at the Baluan Sholak Sport Palace. "Now we have what essentially is a final against Benfica – there's a medal at stake – and my players are good pros. I just have to speak to them and motivate them."
Third place would equal Kairat's best performance from 2009, yet if they are to progress and become champions in the future, Barbosa offers the following advice: "We have a team that should be getting to finals. As a club we have certain objectives, we want to be winners, and we know that in order to win trophies you need that something extra, maybe just a couple of players to make the difference."
Nonetheless, he paid tribute to the tournament hosts, who are helping to make history by staging a UEFA competition in Kazakhstan, for their efforts on and off the pitch. "It is still an achievement to have reached four final tournaments now – I don't think many teams have achieved that level of consistency.
"I really like it here. I spent seven years in Spain and have been in Almaty since 2008. The people are great, the club are very professional and in my experience the set-up here is unrivalled at any other futsal club around the world."