It will not be easy for holders Kairat Almaty when the elite round starts on Tuesday, but three-time winners Inter look favourites in their group. UEFA.com previews the action.
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Holders Kairat Almaty face a tricky task in Hungary if they are to defend their UEFA Futsal Cup title in April's finals after the elite round draw was made in Nyon.
Group A (Thursday, Friday & Sunday; Torrejón de Ardoz): Inter FS (ESP)*, Lidselmash Lida (BLR), Kremlin Bicêtre United (FRA), KMN Dobovec (SVN)
Group B (Wednesday, Thursday & Saturday; Giovanni Paolo II): Tulpar Karagandy (KAZ), Pescara (ITA)*, FP Halle-Gooik (BEL), KMF Zelezarec Skopje (MKD)
Group C (Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday; Magvassy Hall): Kairat Almaty (KAZ, holders), Ugra Yugorsk (RUS), FK EP Chrudim (CZE), Győri ETO FC (HUN)*
Group D (Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday; Zimný štadión): KMF Ekonomac Kragujevac (SRB), Slov-Matic Bratislava (SVK)*, SL Benfica (POR), Lokomotiv Kharkiv (UKR)
• The four group winners progress to the knockout finals, which one of them will host in late April
• Top seeds Inter, Tulpar, Kairat and Ekonomac are entering in this round; the other 12 teams came through the main round.
• Group A hosts Inter, the sole three-time winners of this competition, are in fine form, leading the way in Spain following a 3-1 win against Barcelona on 24 October, with Ricardinho scoring freely. For the other three sides, this is a first elite round appearance – including for debutants Dobovec, the only club in the group not currently top of their league.
• Group B seeds Tulpar are entering as Kazakh runners-up since Kairat are holders. By contrast, the other three teams, including debutants Pescara and Halle-Gooik, began in the preliminary round and are the only survivors from that stage together with Kremlin Bicêtre United. They are not short of experience, though, with Pescara boasting Marco Ercolessi plus three veterans of Montesilvano's 2011 victory, Fabricio Calderolli, Leandro Cuzzolino and Rogerio Da Silva, while Halle-Gooik have Karim Chaibai. A finals debutant is guaranteed from this group.
• Group C appears far from easy for Kairat, who have come through this round six times in the nine seasons since the format was introduced – and beat Tulpar 6-2 and 6-1 last week. Debutants Ugra took the Russian title from FC Dynamo last term and their squad includes internationals Eder Lima, Robinho and Vladislav Shayakhmetov among others. Chrudim have regularly come close to qualifying for the finals in recent campaigns while Győr are also full of elite round know-how.
• Group D seeds Benfica, the 2010 winners, have twice beaten Ekonomac at this stage and occupy the summit of the tough Portuguese league, in which they dethroned 2015 UEFA Futsal Cup finals hosts Sporting CP last season. Bratislava, too, are fixtures in the elite round while Lokomotiv Kharkiv feature many players from what is a strong Ukrainian national squad.