The National Futsal Team began their European Championship adventure with a hard-fought draw on Thursday, played out at the Stozice Arena in Ljubljana. The Azzurri’s match against Serbia finished 1-1, with Saturday’s encounter against Slovenia (20:45 CET) now set to be decisive in terms of who qualifies for the quarter-finals. Only a win will do for the Italians, who will be going home should they lose or draw 0-0 or 1-1.
Miodrag Aksentijevic was the man to complicate things for Menichelli’s side, as the Serbian goalkeeper produced a number of decisive saves to keep out the Azzurri. It took a great finish from Massimo De Luca to beat him, who successfully cancelled out an opener from Tomic.
“It was a tough game like we knew it would be,” said coach Roberto Menichelli. “Serbia played with a very deep defence and the lads did well to get themselves back into the game. Now we must win against Slovenia. It will be a decisive encounter and we must prepare in the best way possible.”
With the players wearing black armbands to remember former National Team coach Azeglio Vicini, Italy began the competition with a quintet full of experience and dynamism. Mammarella started between the sticks, while the outfield was made up of captain Lima, Romano, Honorio and Murilo. Two days after the match against Slovenia, Serbia recalled Aksentijevic and captain Marko Peric, who was previously suspended and now looked to ensure that his side got a result.
Serbia allowed Italy to control the majority of the match, as they focused on waiting to strike on the counter-attack. Despite dictating most of the play, Menichelli’s men entered the opening interval with the scores locked at 0-0. Saves had been made by both Mammarella and Aksentijevic, however, the latter had proven particularly decisive in keeping out efforts from Honorio, Ercolessi, Calderolli and Romano.
The second half saw little change, with Italy pressing high and looking to immediately regain possession at every opportunity. It was thanks to this high tempo that Lima soon had yet another chance to test Aksentijevic at 21’20”. The Serbian shot-stopper’s heroics soon continued, as he produced yet further saves to keep out powerful efforts from Merlim and a strike from Calderolli. As tiredness began to creep in, a foul from Murilo at 29’24” led to Serbia’s opener through Tomic, who also scored during their previous 2-2 draw against Slovenia.
A reaction was duly needed and it immediately came through Massimo De Luca, who struck the back of the net after being found by Honorio. Despite Serbia being a clear threat on the break, Italy bravely sought to find a winner, however, it wasn’t to be. The match eventually finished 1-1, with the Azzurri now set to face Slovenia in a crucial encounter this Saturday, hopeful that Lima will be fit after he took a hard knock during the latter stages against Serbia.
“At the very least it was important to equalise against Slovenia,” said Massimo De Luca. “They are very physical, played with a deep defence and the goalkeeper saved everything that there was to save. Fortunately, I managed to score. Now we must recompose ourselves and recharge our batteries for Saturday.”
ITALY-SERBIA 1-1 (0-0)
ITALY: Mammarella, Lima (C), Romano, Honorio, Murilo, Ercolessi, De Luca, De Oliveira, Merlim, Fusari, Fortini, Baron, Calderolli, Miarelli. Ct: Menichelli
SERBIA: Aksentijevic, Peric (C), Kocic, Simic, Rajcevic, Matijevic, Rakic, Milosavac, Ramic, Tomic, Stankovic, Radovanovic, Momcilovic, Vulic. Ct: Ivancic.
Referee: Birkett (ENG), Cetin (TUR), Onatsu (FIN). Crono: Barton (MKD)
Goalscorers: 29’24” Tomic (S), 31’42” De Luca (I).
Bookings Honorio (I), Ercolessi (I), Radovanovic (S), Milosavac (S), Kocic (S).
European Championships: The groups
Group A: Slovenia, Serbia, ITALY
Group B: Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland
Group C: Portugal, Ukraine, Romania
Group D: Spain, Azerbaijan, France
*The first two of each group qualify for the quarter-finals
Group A: Schedule, results and standings
30th January: Slovenia 2-2 Serbia
1st February: ITALY 1-1 Serbia
3rd February: ITALY-Slovenia (20.45 CET)
Standings: Serbia 2 points, Slovenia and ITALY 1