Dream debut for Montesilvano

While there is no doubt that experience can often prove decisive in top-level sport, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. And this was precisely the case in the latest edition of the UEFA Futsal Cup, where tournament debutants ASD Citta di Montesilvano C/5 defeated Sporting Clube de Portugal 5-2 in the final to become the first Italian side to lift the coveted continental trophy.

Winners of the 2009/10 edition of the Italian championship, Montesilvano had already shocked Sporting’s Lisbon neighbours and reigning champions SL Benfica in the semi-finals. Sporting, for their part, had edged out finals’ hosts Kairat Almaty in the last four, though the Kazakhstani outfit would take some consolation from a penalty shoot-out victory over Benfica in the match for third place.

Intriguingly, the final of this season’s UEFA Futsal Cup, which came into being in 2001/02, was only the second title decider that did not feature at least one Spanish team. The only prior instance came in 2004/05, when Belgium’s Action 21 Charleroi beat Russia’s MFK Dinamo Moskva in the final.

The tenth edition of the Futsal Cup kicked off in August 2010 with a 27-team Preliminary Round, of which seven sides progressed to the Main Round. There they joined 17 other clubs, for a total of 24, with 12 teams going on to qualify for the Elite Round after finishing in the top two of the six four-team groups.

Also entering the fray in the Elite Round were the continent’s four highest-ranked clubs, with the 16 sides still in the competition battling it out in four four-team groups – with only the winners of each section progressing to the semi-finals. On this occasion, the last-four clashes, the match for third place and the final were held over 29 April and 1 May in the Baluan Sholak Sport Palace in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Dark horses finish strongest
Eventual winners Montesilvano, meanwhile, were certainly not among the title favourites on arriving in Kazakhstan, despite going into the finals on a run of five wins and a draw from six games. “It’s been a difficult year and when we got here we weren’t even thinking of going all the way; we just wanted to play well against Benfica,” said Hernan Garcias, scorer of Montesilvano’s opener in the final, when speaking to UEFA.com.

“We also knew that the Sporting game could be really tough because they’re a great team. But so many things have happened that make me think we were destined to win,” added the Argentinian, who has travelled to three FIFA Futsal World Cups with La Albiceleste.

Montesilvano could also boast the most prolific attack of all four semi-finalists, spearheaded by 27-year-old pivot and leading scorer Cleyton Baptistella, a member of the Luparense side that finished fourth in last year’s competition. “We’re very strong mentally, as well as having strong hearts and legs,” was the verdict of Montesilvano’s 53-year-old coach Fulvio Colini after the final. “To win a final by a three-goal margin against the favourites is a great achievement.”

Bitter taste of defeat
Over in the Sporting camp, the sense of disappointment was palpable despite the team's runners-up spot beating their previous best of third place in 2001/02. “In terms of defence, Montesilvano have great tactical qualities,” said Sporting supremo Orlando Duarte, who also coached Portugal to second place at the 2010 edition of the UEFA Futsal EURO. "It's not necessarily a way of playing I like, but it was effective. The better team won on the day; it was a fair result."

Hosts Kairat Almaty, for their part, fell short in their bid to reach their first continental final, though their third place, allied to another podium finish in 2008/09 and fourth spot in 2007/08, proved they are a force to be reckoned with at this level. Only the likes of traditional heavyweights Action 21 Charleroi, Dinamo Moskva and Spain’s Interviu have shown a similarly level of consistency, and each of that trio has lifted the trophy on at least one occasion.

Finally, for deposed champions Benfica, failure to even take a podium berth rounded off a forgettable 45-day period, during which they also finished only third in the 2011 Intercontinental Futsal Cup, won by Interviu. The Eagles will now be desperate to regain some pride in the final of the Portuguese Cup against Sporting, which will be played on Sunday 8 May.