Baku United FC are in Spain for England's elite round debut. We hear from internationals Tobe, Marcelo and Alexandre Ghiotti plus England's Doug Reed and Aghon Rexha.
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England are represented in the UEFA Futsal Cup elite round for the first time this season in London's Baku United FC, but that does not mean the squad that compete in Barcelona from Wednesday lack experience at this level.
Among the squad built by Chema Jiménez are Alexandre Ghiotti, a UEFA Futsal Cup winner in 2011 with ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5, former Spanish international Marcelo – a victor in both FIFA Futsal World Cup and UEFA Futsal EURO – and the coach's former Inter FS charge Tobe. There is English talent too in Doug Reed and Agon Rexha and all five spoke to UEFA.com ahead of their games with Lokomotiv Kharkiv, FC Barcelona and MVFC Berettyóújfalu.
It's really important for the club to be in the elite round. It's been great for our promotion, people are talking about us all over Europe. That's really important for everyone involved in the club, and also for English futsal as well. It's a sport that is growing here still and it's creating attention around England that a team from this country has reached the elite level in European futsal.
Of course Barcelona will be the favourites. Everyone knows that, they are the champions of Europe, one of the best teams in the world. Then you have the Ukrainian champions and the Hungarian champions, both excellent sides, we know a bit about each. It's going to be really tough, obviously we are not the favourites but we are in with a chance to make it to the final four.
It is very important for Baku United to have reached the elite round, for many reasons. First of all, because it was an objective this season. Secondly, it is important for English futsal. All countries would like to say that they've reached this elite round, being among the best 16 teams in Europe, together with Inter, Barcelona, and many other teams.
In the main round, our objective was to get through. We took that very seriously. In the last few months we have been training very hard, since the start of the season. We had our pre-season in Toledo.
We arrived with a very strong mentality. And against the first opponents we faced, Luparense, the team played a very complete game, very serious from the start. And from that point everything became a lot easier. We carried on winning, without losing a point, and went through that phase with the same ability, and I think with all the work we planned on doing on the pitch.
I've been lucky to have played against [Barcelona] for many years, and I have some friends over there. It will take us a lot of effort to win against them. But this draw against Barcelona is also important for Baku, because the whole world is talking about the team, the club, and that is important to promote our team, the city and futsal in England.
It would be a very good sign, if we get to the final four. And with Inter, if we face them I would be very excited. I have a lot of friends there. I had a marvellous two and a half years there.
It definitely means a lot to the club, being the first English team to reach as high in the UEFA Cup, the elite round. It also means a lot to English futsal, it raises awareness in the country, and let other countries know futsal is growing in England so it is definitely a plus for both sides.
I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be a great honour to lead the team as captain into that famous court, Barça. For me personally it will be an amazing experience I will never forget, also for the other lads as well.
Of course Barcelona are favourites, because they are playing at home and they have [a great team and] one of the best training pitches in the world. But we from Baku are prepared, and certainly we will give our maximum to be able to realise our dream of reaching the final four.
I believe that Baku have the players and the conditions [to] reach the final four. I think we have been working very hard for months for it. I believe a lot in my team-mates, in the work done by the coaches, and you can be sure that we will fight until the last minute to try and reach the goal of the final four, which would give us a great success in the world of futsal.
[in the main round] our team sent a clear message, the message that Baku United are prepared for this competition. We are a team with experienced players who will certainly face [our opponents] the right way, and we will have a say in this phase.
I am very much looking forward to playing against my former team-mates [in Spain]. I played with some of them for some time. We are completely aware that they are fantastic players, players who are known around the world. For me it will be a pleasure to see old faces and old team-mates.
Barcelona are a pretty tough team, but Lokomotiv and the other team from Hungary will be trying to have a say as well. Teams like Lokomotiv are new to this competition as well, and they will be difficult encounters, and interesting to watch.
Of course [Baku can win the group]. Baku are fully prepared to achieve that objective, and we will be not only well prepared, but also confident that we can make it to the finals.