Remember that UEFA Futsal Championship I was telling you about a week ago?
The “Euro 2007 of Indoor Soccer” has now reached the playoffs stage, and our own Azzurri team has made it to the tournament final yesterday, by beating Russia in a spectacular and intensity-laden semi-final match. The match ended 2-0 thanks to the goals of Grana and Fabiano.
Italy are sailing towards the UEFA Futsal Championship final, when on Sunday (12:00pm ET) they will try to take back the title they won in 2003 and unluckily lost 2 years later in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Protagonist of the semi-final game tonight was the Azzurri’s high tolerance for suffering in the key moments of the match, and an incredible Fabiano Assad: the Brasilian-born Azzurri defender completely neutralized the main Russian target man, and capped the night by scoring the goal that clinched the game. The goal is near for Italy, as the Azzurri will try to take their final step towards victory on Sunday evening.
The Italian coach Alessandro Nuccorini left Montovanelli and Jubanski out of the starting line-up, keeping Bacaro, Zanetti, and Pellegrini despite their muscular problems. The Azzurri began the match with Feller in goal, and a 4-men line-up with Forte, Pellegrini, Bertoni, and Morgado. On the other side Russian coach Oleg Ivanov (who used to be the backup keeper of legendary goalie Lev Yashin, in Dinamo Moscow’s later 1960′s) picked Zuyev in goal, as well as Kobzar, Malychev, Pelé Jr. and Cirilo as field players. A strong Russian team, ready to face some highly motivated and skilled Azzurri.
Italy identified the main danger in this match to be Cirilo, the Russian-naturalized Brazilian striker and one of the best pivots opertating in Europe at the moment. For that reason, the Italian coach wanted his team to be very aggressive right from the start, intructions executed to the letter by his players. After 2’36” the Azzurri opened the score: Forte sidestepped his marker Kobzar, forcing him to commit a foul at the 15m distance. Nando Grana subbed on for Pellegrini to take the free-kick, and slammed the ball home (exploiting a deflection from the Russian wall). 1-0 Italy.
That was actually the only foul the referees called in the first half, allowing the game to flow perhaps more than it should. In the end however, it benefitted the Azzurri because Russians didn’t recover from their early shock until the last portion of the first 20 minutes, and had to concede the attempts of Fabiano (toe-pointed effort), Bertoni (hard shot with a wide angle), and Grana (incredible one-on-one chance in the 10′ missed by the Italian). Meanwhile the Russian striker Cirilo was trying his best, but was being relentlessly marked down by Fabiano and Forte. In the 9th, he managed to get rid of Pellegrini and tried a close-range shot, but it was wide.
In the 2nd half, Russia came back on the field with guns blazing, and the first 10 minutes were an endless suffering for the Azzurri. First, Pellegrini saved an almost clear goal on Pelé Junior’s shot, then it was the turn of the goalkeeper to keep Shayakhmetov’s effort out of the net. Italy replied with Foglia (straight on the goalie), but Russia had clearly gotten momentum on their side at this point. Nonetheless, lady luck helped out the Azzurri a bit: between minutes 26 and 28, Russia obtained two back-to-back golden chances but couldn’t produce. First Cirilo adeptly turned and slammed a shot onto the crossbar (with the entire Russian roster claiming the goal for a rebound over the line), then less than a minute later it was Pelé Junior’s turn to hit the woodwork, by stamping a left-footed rocket onto the post. The scoreline remained 1-0 for the Italians.
It was a sign of destiny almost, because in min. 30’40” Fabiano Assad (who earned the man of the match award for his efforts tonight) put the final mark on a perfect performance with the 2nd and last goal of the game: stealing the ball from Maevskiy, eluding the guard of the others, and slamming the ball home from the right side. 2-0 Italy!
That goal was the nail in Russia’s coffin, who continued to fight until the end nonetheless, trying to use Maevskiy as moving keeper and gain a numerical advantage in offense. It was however too late, and Italy finished the match victorious, even getting the chance to increase their lead through Grana, Foglia, and Morgado.
On Sunday Novemeber 25, the Azzurri will contend the Euro Championship title to Spain, who eliminated Portugal in the other semi-final, after a 4-3 penalty-shoot win (2-2 in regular time). FORZA AZZURRI!
Note: Special thanks to Gazzetta dello Sport for their reports on the UEFA Futsal Championship. Also for MATCH HIGHLIGHTS of the Group Stage game vs. ROMANIA (7-1), see below: