International Competitions - April 25, 2019 15:00OUR PREVIEW: UEFA Futsal Champions LeagueWho’s gonna win the first ever edition?by Luca Ranocchiari - editor

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Cover Photo: Sportsfile/

New name and new trophy after seventeen amazing editions of UEFA Futsal Cup, but “usual suspects” fighting for it. One more season of the most important club competition in the “old continent” is coming to the end, and as happened two years ago Almaty will host again the prestigious final four. The Almaty Arena will be full of stars for the first ever UEFA Futsal Champions League Finals featuring, just to mentions one, five time champions Movistar Inter FS looking for their fourth final (and eventual third title) in a row. But in order to achieve this the madrilenian club will have to face a strong competition given by last two years finalist Sporting CP in the first semifinal and then, should they win, a final against the Kairat Almaty vs Barca Lassa’s clash winners.

Sporting CP vs Movistar Inter FS
7-0, 5-2: last finals score. Movistar Inter is a kind of nightmare for Sporting CP, but things could change in this season. The Portuguese champions have fallen twice in the past finals against the Spanish holders, and futsal destiny gave a third chance in this season semifinal. Os Leões have signed two interesting and well-known young brazilian talents like Alex and Rocha, as well as having back in the roster Leo Jaraguà (a previous experience in Lisbon in 16/17 season, on loan from Kairat) and Erick Mendonça after two seasons spent with Fundão. The rest of the team is not in need of introduction: players like Joao Matos and Pedro Cary are “living legends” of Sporting and Portuguese futsal, same for Cardinal. Pany Varela with the “italian oriundi” Cavinato and Merlim, the “historical” Deo and the big talent of Dieguinho complete a strong team. But maybe we forgot something, probably the real key for Nuno Dias’ hope and ambitions: Guitta. Though relying on Portugal’s goalie Andrè Sousa and on the “penalties” hero Gonçalo Portugal we can’t avoid to underline how the brazilian goleiro could represent the turning point for the international dreams of Sporting. After claiming one more cup title less than one month ago (as well as the Super Cup in september, missing the Taca da Liga in January) and just ending the Liga SportZone regular season as runners-up Sporting CP seems to be ready to change the recent story of European futsal.

Road to Almaty:
-> Main Round group 4 (in Pristina, Kosovo) Runners Up (defeat vs Kairat, group Winners)
-> Elite Round Group C Winners (hosted in Lisbon, Portugal)

Opposite feelings in Torrejon de Ardoz, where Movistar Inter is definitely not living their best ever season. Everything seemed to begin in the “usual” way when the “maquina verde” got one more Super Cup title after a dramatic penalty win vs Jaen FS on past September. Entering the UEFA Futsal Champions League Finals was not that easy for Velasco’s boys who won both Main and Elite Round groups facing tough rivals, with special regard to their Elite Round second game vs Belgian champions Halle-Gooik. No glory in the Copa de Espana, with a 5-1 defeat in semifinal vs ElPozo. Movistar Inter experienced hard times in regular season as well, in which they could even end in 5th place, depending on Osasuna and Palma results in their last round games (day 30 already played by Movistar due to the Champions League challenge). So basically there are three options left to save this season in Madrid, in order of “appearance”: UEFA Futsal Champions League Finals, Copa del Rey Final Four (what a semifinal vs Barca Lassa!) and Play-Off.
How to increase the level of a club that won everything in recent times? Not an easy task for Javier Lorente and mates, who just promoted Ivan Moreno (then moving to England’s Helvecia Futsal Club on past January) to the first roster and only “dismissed” Bruno Taffy and Serginho, No changes at all? Well, Movistar had to wait until the end of the brazilian season (December 2018) to show their real plans: Marlon from Carlos Barbosa and above all the huge talent of Marcel from Magnus Futsal have joined the club.
The recent renovations of Gadeia, Elisandro, Pola, Ortiz and Jesus Herrero have revealed the good intentions of the club for the next seasons to come, as well as looking like a kind of extra-motivation for the imminent European and local challenges though the heavy defeat in Tudela vs Ribera Navarra in their last regular season game sounds as not encouraging. But we can expect everything from a roster which is a concentration of stars used to win every possible title. In addition to the previously mentioned players Movistar features athletes like a "certain" Ricardinho, Daniel, Humberto, Borja, Bebe, Gadeia: can you ask for more? Two final points: while the third pivot Solano looks like marginalized by Velasco who’s not including him in the roster, a possibile key is definitely given by the recent and eagerly awaited recover of Rafael “Rato”. Will they make it again?

Road to Almaty:
-> Main Round group 2 (in Kragujevac, Serbia) Winners
-> Elite Round Group A Winners (in Alytus, Lithuania)

Barça Lassa vs Kairat Almaty
The season signals from Barcelona are quite clear: Andreu Plaza’s team aims to relive the golden era between 2013 and 2014, when in two different sport season the blaugrana won everything in Spain and then, as an ideal cherry on the cake, even the UEFA Futsal Cup in Baku. Those were the last league title (12/13) and UEFA’s trophy (13/14) for Barcelona, one reason more to come back on top in 2019. Great expectations helped by brilliant premises: the Copa de España title conquered in Valencia on past March and the regular season leadership guaranteed through the last home triumph over Viña Albali Valdepeñas, a basic advantage during the play-off series. Investments made on the roster were definitely significant in terms of budget, ending with the last signing of the brazilian star of Gazprom-Ugra: Marcenio (though he won’t play in the finals due to the tournament regulations).
Didac Plana (former Jaen) replaced the legendary Paco Sedano and share Barca’s goal with a “reborn” Juanjo, while the departures of Joao and Tolrà have been “forgotten” through the signing of one more Jaen’s sensation like Boyis, as well as Magnus talent Arthur and the former Barca’s B team (filial) Adri Ortego, league revelation player 17/18 with Zaragoza, who finally moved to Osasuna Magna on past december. Barca’s team looks like a Spain (captain Sergio Lozano, the finally recovered Rivillos, Aicardo, Adolfo, Joselito and Roger) vs Brazil (Leo Santana, Ferrao, Esquerdinha and Dyego) all stars game. Time to shine for Barça Lassa, if hosts Kairat agree. Worth to remind that along with Marcenio, Ferrao won’t play in semifinal due to a suspension: fortunately the recently injured Adolfo is back in the team and available for the Almaty trip.

Road to Almaty:
-> Main Round group 1 runners-up (in Halle, Belgium)
-> Elite Roung Group B Winners (in Barcelona, Spain)

The big news from Kazakhstan is that Kairat missed the Cup title this year (falling in semifinal to future winners Aqtobe), something quite weird for a club that dominates the scene in their country leaving few chances for rivals. No surprises in Super Cup and League (16th title in a row conquered one month before the end, thanks to the double win over runners-up Ayat) but all expectations, as per every season, are focused on the UEFA Futsal Champions League Finals. Note for futsal stats lovers (and Kazakh fans!): when Kairat face the blaugrana side then celebrate a title! This happened twice in 2015 final and 2013 semifinal (in Tbilisi, first ever European title for Kairat as they then defeated Dinamo Moscow in the grand final).
Looks like a destiny joke but Douglas Jr, one of the undisputed stars of Kairat, would have been rather wearing the Barca’s shirt in this game: the brazilian lost this chance due to a serious summer injury while playing in a tournament and after a long wait could come back playing in January. Kairat Orazbekov’s club is now coached by former Gazprom’s Kaka who has the hard task to replace the man who took Kairat to the international glory: Cacau. We look forward to see if in this CL Finals the celeber way of playing with Higuita (who just saw his contract extended until 2024 with a one million dollar buyout clause) as goleiro-linha will be again the key to succeed or if Kaka will feature something different. For sure, after missing the previous chances “at home” (2011 and 2017 won by Montesilvano and Movistar Inter) Kairat will do everything to claim their third continental title. While the persian king Hossein Tayebi should miss the event due to a recent injury to his right hand, no doubts on the other team stars support. The third Kazakh national team player coming from Brazil, along with Douglas Jr and Higuita, is the impressive Taynan who should move to Sporting at the end of this season. More braziians signings were registered at the beginning of the season: John Lennon from Sao Josè Futsal (and former Agleymina Hamamatsu in Japan), Edson from Joacaba and Rangel who experienced a great season in Italy with Came Dosson. And don’t underestimate the local product, starting with the “eternal” captain Suleimenov and featuring the experienced profiles of Zhamankulov and Yesenamanov as well as many others young talents recently rising like Dauren Tursagulov, Birzhan Orazov and Dauren Nurgozhin. Kairat tested their conditions in Russia during the past week (friendly with Norilsky Nickel and vs a Russian selection), leaving the youth players completing the last Kazakh league games vs FC Okzhetpes.

Road to Almaty:
-> Main Round group 4 winners (in Pristina, Kosovo)
-> Elite Roung Group D Winners (in Chrudim, Czech Republic)

Photo courtesy: Kairat Almaty

Image courtesy: Kairat Almaty

Photo courtesy: Kairat Almaty

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