Croatia beat hosts Libya 3-1 on penalties to win the inaugural Mediterranean Futsal Cup, held in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.
Some 16 countries from the Mediterranean region took part in the competition, although there were three notable absentees: two-time world champions Spain; Italy, who finished third at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008, and Egypt, who have appeared four times at world futsal’s showpiece tournament. For those that did take part, the event provided a valuable dress rehearsal for the qualifiers for the next FIFA Futsal World Cup, to be hosted in Thailand in two years’ time.
Having reached the second round at Guatemala 2000, their only previous appearance in the world finals, the Croatians will have high hopes of negotiating the qualifying competition after proving too good for their Mediterranean neighbours.
The hero of the hour for the Balkan side was goalkeeper Ivo Jukic, who kept out four penalties in the final. “It was a great game between two fine teams and it was in the balance right until the end,” said the elated custodian afterwards. “Luckily for us we managed to come through on penalties and I’m delighted to have made those saves. I’d watched the Libyans before so I had a fair idea where they’d put them. That said, you always need a bit of luck too.”
I’m delighted we won but the main reason we came was to learn and to keep on developing. It’s a good start for us.
Libya were the only non-European side to reach the last four, where they disposed of France 2-1 to take their place in the final. The Croatians, who went the whole tournament without losing a game, joined them there after overpowering Slovenia 7-3.
The men in red and white were inspired by their star man, Dario Marinovic, who was voted player of the tournament. The top goalscorer award went to Syria’s sharpshooter Mohamed Istambouli, who struck 17 goals in all, while Libya's Mohamed Alsharif took the honours as the best goalkeeper.
Having only taken charge of the team last summer, Croatia coach Mato Stankovic has every reason to be content with the progress his team are making: “We’ve set the bar high for ourselves now although we’re still in the process of putting the team together. But by the time the 2012 European Championships come around the players will be ready. I’m delighted we won but the main reason we came was to learn and to keep on developing. It’s a good start for us."
Home favourites Libya made a dramatic start to the competition, scoring 26 goals in brushing aside Syria, Morocco and Greece in their group. Hungry for more, Pablo Prieto’s men then beat Lebanon in the quarter-finals and France in the semis, only to come up short in the final.
“We were really looking forward to playing at home in front of our own fans, but to win a tournament you have to go out and perform as well,” commented a rueful Prieto following his side’s spot-kick defeat.
The third-place match between France and Slovenia was their second meeting of the competition, with the Slovenians following up their 3-1 win over Les Bleus in the group phase with a 4-2 victory that gave them the last place on the podium.
Despite the presence of their young Qatar-based star Khaled Takaji, Lebanon were no match for the Morocco, who beat them 6-2 to claim fifth place, while Bosnia took seventh courtesy of a handsome 5-2 defeat of Tunisia.
World finalists at Netherlands 1989, Algeria flattered to deceive and fell to a Turkey side who claimed ninth after snatching a thrilling 11-10 win against neighbours Greece.