No fewer than 14 teams were involved in the home-and-away UEFA play-offs for the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2012, with seven of them managing to secure a much-coveted passage to November's showpiece event in Thailand.
One of the highlights was Serbia guaranteeing their first appearance at the finals, having defeated Hungary over two legs. The latter had managed a 1-0 win at home in the opener and held high hopes of making it to the global showpiece for the first time since 1989. Serbia had other ideas, however, with Slobodan Rajcevic and Marko Prsic each bagging a brace in a comfortable 6-1 second-leg win.
Spain and Italy cruise, Russia sweat
Two-time FIFA Futsal World Cup-winners Spain were absolutely dominant in their play-off match-up, thrashing Slovakia 4-0 and 8-0 to prove that they are still the yardstick as far as European sides are concerned. "We didn't want to take any chances," said La Roja coach Venancio Lopez. "This team is now unbeaten in almost seven years, over 108 matches, and we have developed a real winning mentality."
Italy, who finished third at Brazil 2008, also booked their ticket for Thailand with a win over Norway, who were taking part in the qualifiers for the first time. The Squadra Azzurra did the hard work in a crushing 5-0 first leg success away from home, which enabled them to take their foot off the pedal in a 2-0 win in the return.
The most exciting play-off duel saw little to choose between neighbours Russia and Azerbaijan. Russia won the first leg away in Baku 3-2 thanks to goals from captain Sergei Sergeev (twice) and Ivan Milovanov, with Kaka and Ilkin Hajiyev replying for the home team. The second leg in Tyumen was an equally tight affair, with the Russians holding out for a 2-2 draw and qualifying for their second consecutive FIFA Futsal World Cup.
Czechs turn it around
Portugal, whose best showing to date is third place at Guatemala 2000, will also be going to Thailand after Ricardinho and his cohorts defeated Belarus 7-1 away and then 4-1 at home.
Ukraine will be at their third consecutive final phase and hoping to do better than in 2004 and 2008, when they were knocked out in the second round both times. They did things the hard way in the play-offs as, after defeating Romania 4-0 away in the opening leg, they lost the return 4-1, thus securing their berth in Thailand by the narrowest of margins.
Last but not least, Czech Republic will also be travelling to South-East Asia in November. After losing the first leg 2-0 in Slovenia, Czech coach Tomas Neumann managed to fire up his troops ahead of a decisive 4-1 win in front of their home fans.