"I want to return from Portugal a happy man, with a medal on my neck and a cup in my lap," Kairat Almaty forward Joan told UEFA.com as he prepared for the finals.
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Two years after winning the UEFA Futsal Cup, and 12 months on from losing it in the semi-finals against FC Dynamo, Kairat Almaty – fresh from clinching a 12th straight Kazakh title – are back once more in the last four.
Rather than Dynamo, it is the Russian team's neighbours ISC Dina Moskva that form Kairat's opposition in the semi-finals in Lisbon on Friday. Experienced Brazilian Joan, a two-time runner-up with Dynamo before triumphing with Kairat in 2013, spoke to UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: There were plenty of goals in your elite round games; how would you rate Kairat's performances?
Joan: We are very strong right now. We strengthened with great players like Lukaian and Humberto during the last transfer window. Both are quality performers who can score goals even from very difficult situations. I think that after our busy league and cup programmes we go into the competition in great shape. We have some original plays that can surprise even big-name opponents.
UEFA.com: How much of a step up is the final tournament?
Joan: This is our third finals in a row and we're getting stronger every time. While our UEFA Futsal Cup win [two seasons ago] was somewhat unexpected for many people, now we are one of the tournament favourites.
UEFA.com: What will you need to improve further?
Joan: Our current target is to help our new players adapt as quickly as possible. Everyone knows that Kairat play well with the goalkeeper coming forward; now Lukaian and Humberto have to understand these moves.
UEFA.com: What do you think of Dina?
Joan: We have been drawn against a very strong side – Dina are the best club in Russia, which is one the strongest leagues in the world. They play a Russian style of futsal with powerful physical pressing, while the presence of skilful players like Aleksei Prudnikov and Esquerdinha allows them to attack effectively with the goalkeeper playing as the fifth outfielder.
UEFA.com: What did the UEFA Futsal Cup victory in 2013 mean to Kairat?
Joan: It was indescribable. We beat the strongest teams in Europe at a time when few people believed in us. You cannot imagine my emotions – I am 38 now, so at the age I was then, managing to help the team win a major continental trophy ...
UEFA.com: Describe how it felt to lift the trophy.
Joan: It is very difficult to put it into words. You realise that it was worth all the effort when you decided to play football in your childhood and chose this long career path. You also feel you are writing your name in the history of this great game. It's a mad joy and a feeling of immeasurable happiness ... a feeling you want to hold onto
UEFA.com: What were the celebrations like afterwards?
Joan: There were lots of public functions when we returned to Almaty. We were welcomed at various city squares by crowds of people. We were even invited to take part in a cycling event together with the city's mayor. People started to recognise us more.
UEFA.com: Are you determined to make up for the semi-final loss to Dynamo last year?
Joan: We already had our revenge against the Moscow team in the World Futsal Super Cup in Almaty last autumn. It was great to beat them at our home ground. All the fans understood that it was a very important contest for us and they packed the arena. I am delighted we managed to make the people of Kazakhstan happy with such a big win.
UEFA.com: How is the UEFA Futsal Cup followed in Brazil – do people keep a close eye?
Joan: Of course, they follow all the big matches. After we won the UEFA Futsal Cup, I received so many texts. My relatives cried with joy because I managed to achieve such a feat at an advanced stage in my career. I am not exaggerating – it was heroic to do it at my age.
UEFA.com: How would you compare playing futsal in Russia or Kazakhstan with Brazil?
Joan: All the countries I've played in have a different style. Russian futsal is very aggressive, there are a lot of tussles, players give their maximum for 40 minutes. In Brazil, there are a lot of very skilful players that can beat anybody one on one. The goalkeepers attack a lot too. In Kazakhstan, meanwhile, they put more emphasis on team play with lots of passes and movement.
UEFA.com: What are you most looking forward to in Lisbon?
Joan: I want to return from Portugal a happy man, with a medal around my neck. We have a very strong team who can make our supporters happy. Fans from all over the world will be watching our matches. Tbilisi was lucky for us in 2013, now I hope Lisbon will turn out to be a hospitable city too!