During ten days of hotly-contested UEFA European Futsal Championship action, the continent's traditional hierarchy were barely disturbed. Two years ago, Spain emerged as winners of the title, defeating Czech Republic 2-1.
On Sunday, in the 2007 final at Porto's Multiusos Gondomar Coracao de Ouro, it was Italy's turn to come unstuck against the reigning world champions, who secured their fourth European title with a 3-1 win. By defeating the Italians, Jose Venancio's team underlined their dominance of the sport by becoming the first side to retain the European Championship since its first finals were played in 1996.
Over the last seven years, the Spaniards, guided by the legendary Javier Lozano until his recent departure, have won every title possible. In addition to their back-to-back European titles, LaRoja have won the FIFA Futsal World Cup twice during this period. And they will head for the 2008 edition in Brazil as the hottest possible favourites.
"While we perhaps didn't take the tournament by storm, little by little we demonstrated that Spain were the best team," said new coach Jose Venancio after lifting the trophy. "I'd like to thank my players for this great joy. But more than anyone else it is time for me to thank the man who taught me everything, the man who was, in every respect, my mentor: Javier Lozano. I worked alongside him for 15 years and all the good things I was able to do at this tournament, I learnt from him."
In Sunday's final, Italy also confirmed their status as one of the top futsal nations not just in Europe, but the world. The third-place finish they achieved in 2005 was seen as a disappointment, but this time around defeat was deemed acceptable, given that the team had made it to the final. "I would like to congratulate Spain who are worthy European champions," said Italy coach Alessandro Nuccorini after the final.
"We were very tired in the second half, and when you come up against that kind of armada you have to be at 200 per cent all the time. I think that my team has the talent to win a major trophy in the near future. But if that's going to happen, we'll have to hope Spain falter."
After finishing third, Russia confirmed that they too have no shortage of talent. Nonetheless, their 3-2 victory over Portugal, who had been impressive throughout the competition, was a considerable surprise. "For me, Portugal were far and away the best team at this tournament," said Spain's captain Javi Rodríguez after he and his team-mates defeated their Iberian neighbours 4-3 in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 finish to their semi-final.
The sentiment was echoed by Italy's Adriano Foglia: ''Being completely objective, Portugal deserved to win the title. They should have beaten Spain in the semi-final."
With less than a year to go until the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008, the host nation face a real test. Despite being one of the giants of world futsal, the hosts will have to proceed with extreme caution given that Spain, and many other European sides, are continuing to make real progress.