After more than a decade of trying, Giorgi Altunashvili and Iberia Star Tbilisi make their finals bow on Friday and the defender speaks to UEFA.com about their hopes on home soil.
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Iberia Star Tbilisi are the only side to have played in all 12 UEFA Futsal Cup seasons but only on Friday will they make their finals debut.
The perennial Georgian champions got past the elite round of qualifying for the first time in November with a 7-4 defeat of SL Benfica at a thrilled Tbilisi Palace of Sport, and this week they stage the four-team finals there with 2007 winners MFK Dinamo awaiting them in the last four just days after changing coach. Giorgi Altunashvili first appeared for Iberia in Europe in October 2002 and the 31-year-old Georgia defender told UEFA.com about their achievement in reaching the finals, the backing they expect from their fans, and keeping sharp for European action when they are so dominant at home.
UEFA.com: What does it mean to you to be in the UEFA Futsal Cup finals?
Giorgi Altunashvili: For any player, to be in the finals is the highest attainable goal at club level. So it is the most significant stage in the life of a futsal player.
UEFA.com: Especially having come close so many times ...
Altunashvili: I think it is the result of the hard work and dedication we have put in for years. It comprises the work of the president, the coaches, and each and every player.
UEFA.com: You had great support at home in the elite round. Do you expect the same this week?
Altunashvili: Almost 6,000 Iberia Star fans attended the elite round matches [last October]. We felt tremendous support and warmth from our supporters, and surely that will be even stronger during the final phase, when I think the Sports Palace will be full. Naturally most of them will be Georgian, so Iberia Star will have great support.
UEFA.com: How passionate are your fans?
Altunashvili: Well, all fans are passionate, in general. But when a match is indoors and in an enclosed space those emotions get even stronger and more intense. It is always important to play in front of your fans, and their influence was very obvious during the last round when we played against Benfica. We received huge support from our fans, and that undoubtedly helped the team during that decisive match against Benfica.
UEFA.com: You have already knocked out former champions in SL Benfica. Now you face another in Dinamo – how will you fare against them, and then either FC Barcelona or Kairat Almaty, all experienced sides at this level?
Altunashvili: Well, Barcelona and Dinamo were last year's finalists and Kairat have been among the final four in recent years. But I think Iberia can be very competitive, all the more so because we're playing at home and have the support of the local public. That gives us an edge.
UEFA.com: You are so dominant in Georgia, how do you keep sharp for European competition?
Altunashvili: Unfortunately the Georgian championship is not as strong as in Spain or Russia. Barcelona and Dinamo face tough opposition throughout the season. Unlike them, we try to play in as many international competitions as possible, to face top-level teams.
UEFA.com: Can Iberia Star's success inspire the Georgian national team? Do you think Iberia Star can be the right model for the national side to follow?
Altunashvili: Iberia Star are one of the strongest and most prominent teams in Georgia, and I think it's to Iberia's credit that futsal has become popular in our country. The fans that follow Iberia's successes want the same for the national team.