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Futsal Champions League semi-final preview: ACCS-Sporting, Benfica-Barça

Finals debutants meet holders to begin Friday's action at Arena Riga before two past champions face off.

SPORTSFILE

The UEFA Futsal Champions League is back to its familiar four-team finals format and the contenders face off on Friday at Arena Riga.

We preview the action as France's first finals entrants ACCS Asnières Villeneuve 92 play holders Sporting CP and then 2010 champions Benfica meet three-time winners Barça. The third-place play-off and final are both on Sunday.

Where to watch the games: TV/streams

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ACCS vs Sporting CP 

In theory, holders Sporting should be confident of reaching a fifth final in six years. Not only were they champions in 2019 and 2021, and provide the core of the Portugal team that won FIFA Futsal World Cup and UEFA Futsal EURO titles in recent months, but ACCS are the first French club to play at this stage, were in the second tier this season (though clinched top spot) and only received their call-up for Riga at the end of last month having finished behind now excluded Russian club Tyumen in the elite round.

2021 final highights: Barça 3-4 Sporting CP
2021 final highights: Barça 3-4 Sporting CP

However, these teams met in October to begin the main round and Sporting only edged a 4-3 win. In their next game, ACCS beat last season's quarter-finalists Dobovec and in the elite round they held two-time champions Kairat Almaty, who they were to pip to second place in the group and ultimately the finals. And, should he be fit, ACCS boast the legend Ricardinho, who first reached the final of this competition with Benfica in 2004 and has won three titles among many personal honours.

Still, Sporting's parade of European champions at club and national-team level means that failure to reach their sixth final would be a surprise. Ten of their 14-man squad from last season is back again, and to that they can add experienced pivot Cardinal, who missed out injured in Zadar but was part of their 2019 victory.

While Sporting boast several of Portugal's world and European champions, ACCS also have one in a former club-mate of Cardinal's: Ricardinho. Injury has meant he has barely played in the last 15 months other than in the autumn's FIFA Futsal World Cup but he is with the ACCS squad in Riga hoping to win a fourth title after his 2010 success with Benfica and Inter victories in 2017 and 2018, and at 36 this might well be the top-level UEFA swansong for a player who first featured in a final in 2004, only the third edition.

Key stat: Sporting coach Nuno Dias will become the first to reach a half-century of matches in charge of a single club and only the second overall after Barça's Jesús Velasco, who will bring up 57 later on Friday.

ACCS coach Sergio Mullor and Sporting CP's Nuno Dias at Arena Riga
ACCS coach Sergio Mullor and Sporting CP's Nuno Dias at Arena RigaSPORTSFILE

Sergio Mullor, ACCS coach: "We know that it will be the most important match, what an opportunity for us. We were doing very good work until December and for this we deserve this chance. We will try to be at our best in this important moment.”

Nuno Dias, Sporting coach: "We have improved since the start of the season. And also now we have everyone available which wasn’t the case in the main round, some players were injured and some had just arrived. The ACCS team is also different but we will only know on Friday if they are better or worse, but they will have extra motivation as they are facing the European champions."

Souheil Mouhoudine, ACCS captain: "I have been at ACCS for five years so it is now really special to be captain in this Champions League semi-final. Everyone knows how special Ricardinho is. He is an amazing and humble person and it is special to train with him, considering what he knows and transmits to everyone."

João Matos, Sporting captain: “This a Champions League match so it is always difficult. We are facing a team with a mix of experience and young players but we are prepared for the match. We know our responsibilities and we are going out there to win.”

In-depth: Meet the semi-finalists

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Benfica vs Barça 

Oddly, considering these teams' European pedigrees, they have only previously met once in this competition, a 1-1 main round draw in 2018/19. But between them they have racked up 14 finals appearances and Benfica were champions in 2010, while their opponents lifted the trophy in 2012, 2014 and 2020.

Barça only just missed out on a fourth title last year in a thrilling final against Sporting and since then additions include former Inter FS and ACCS coach Velasco and defender Ortiz, who like club-mate Sergio Lozano (and Ricardinho) is aiming to equal Gabriel's record of four titles. Ferrao, who got a hat-trick at this stage last year against Kairat, fellow pivot Pito and Matheus Rodrigues have all recovered from injury to join the Barça squad. However another star pivot Esquerdinha, the all-time finals top scorer on ten goals (one ahead of Ferrao) misses out.

Benfica have been rather eclipsed by Sporting in recent years and, since their 2010 triumph in Lisbon, lost their last two semi-finals in 2011 and 2016, departing in the last eight a year ago in extra time to Kairat. However, they beat Sporting 3-2 last week and can boast in Robinho a player who first won this competition in 2005; both he and Ortiz have a chance of taking Javi Rodriguez's ten-year-old record as the oldest scorer in a UEFA futsal club finals.

The Eagles also have Vinícius Rocha, who they signed in February, and a winner with Sporting in 2019 and 2021 before a short spell in Brazil. Barça's Portugal defender André Coelho, meanwhile, joined from Benfica in 2020.

Key stat: Barça are in the final four for the ninth time (all in the space of 11 seasons) since the format began in 2006/07, equalling Kairat Almaty's record.

Coaches Jesús Velasco and Pulpis chat before their press conference
Coaches Jesús Velasco and Pulpis chat before their press conferenceSPORTSFILE

Pulpis, Benfica coach: "Barça are a very talented team who master every single aspect of the game. They are very strong playing with their pivot and are one of the very few teams in Spain who play with their goalkeeper up front. They have very few weaknesses if any. It will be an even match which I think will be decided on small details."

Jesús Velasco, Barça coach: "In Benfica we’re talking about one of the best teams in the world. They have an impressive squad and are able to rotate their players without losing any quality. They are also physically very strong and you cannot really say that they are a bit weaker in a specific aspect of the game. Of course it is very important for us to have Ferrao and Pito back but it remains to be seen at what level because they are still trying to find their best form."

André Sousa, Benfica goalkeeper: "The expectations for the semi-final couldn’t be higher and we are ready for the challenge. Having said that, we are facing one of the best teams in the world. It will be very hard but this is the kind of match that we love to play. It will take the best Benfica to beat Barça and advance to the final. I joked with André Coelho in the national team when the draw set a clash between Benfica and Barça but in the end we are very good friends and each of us will do his best to win.”

André Coelho, Barça defender: “One thing is for sure: it will be very difficult. Benfica have a great team and they are here to win the title like us, so that means that we will need to be at our best if we are to advance to Sunday’s final. All the players from both teams are used to playing in important matches like this one and I believe that small details will decide the game."


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