Holders SL Benfica will compete with Lisbon rivals Sporting Clube de Portugal, Kairat Almaty and European debutants ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5 for the UEFA Futsal Cup after they won their elite round groups – meaning that for the first time in the ten editions to date the final will not have a team from either Spain or Russia.
UEFA.com profiles the hopefuls, one of whom will be selected to stage the showpiece, which consists of two semi-finals on either 28 or 29 April followed by a third-place play-off and final two days later. The draw will be made in the eventual host city early next year.
ASD Città di Montesilvano C/5 (ITA)
Montesilvano, based on the Adriatic coast, only won their first Italian title last summer but have been superb on their European bow. They were handed a tough elite-round trip to Russia in a group staged by 2008 champions MFK Sinara Ekaterinburg, yet Montesilvano dramatically beat the hosts 2-1 with goals in the second and 39th minutes. After holding 2010 bronze-medallists Araz Naxçivan 2-2, Fulvio Colini's side also saw off AGBU Ararat Nicosia 10-0 with five of their goals scored by Cleyton Baptistella. Those goals took his season's tally to ten for a player who last term helped Montesilvano's domestic rivals Luparense C/5 to the finals.
Best performance: first appearance
Main round: ASA Tel-Aviv 6-1, FS Ilves Tampere 6-1, MNK Nacional Zagreb 2-1 (Group 5 winners)
Elite round: MFK Sinara Ekaterinburg 2-1, Araz Naxçivan 2-2, AGBU Ararat Nicosia 10-0 (Group B winners)
Key players: Cristian Borruto, Marco Forte, Rogerio Da Silva, Cleyton Baptistella, Stefano Mammarella
Kairat Almaty (KAZ)
Kairat are old hands at this level, having reached the old two-legged semi-final in 2006 and made the new four-team showpiece in 2008 and 2009. Kairat missed out in the elite round last year but stormed through this time on home territory to the delight of their fans. Winners of the last seven Kazakh titles – and five points clear six games into their current campaign – they took their current name in 2001 in honour of businessman Kairat Orazbekov, who helped found the club and is now president, building a cosmopolitan team that includes Kelson, who won this competition with both Action 21 Charleroi in 2005 and Dinamo two years later. Coach João Carlos Barbosa has been in charge since 2008 after plenty of success in his native Brazil and Spain.
Best performance: semi-finals 2006, 2008, 2009 (third place 2009)
Main round: bye
Elite round: Akademia FC Pniewy 5-0, Slov-Matic Bratislava 3-1, Iberia Star Tblisi 2-2 (Group C winners)
Key players: Kelson, Katata, Micky, Leo, Dinmukhambet Suleimenov
SL Benfica (POR)
Having taken the UEFA Futsal Cup to Portugal for the first time in April – with victory on home soil in Lisbon – Benfica defeated KMF Ekonomac Kragujevac 5-3 in Serbia to qualify again. Unbeaten in the league this season, Benfica have made a good start to life under new coach Paulo Fernandes, who masterminded Sporting's championship play-off win against the Eagles last season before switching clubs. Also European runners-up in 2004, Benfica lost their best-known player, Ricardinho, to Japan's Nagoya Oceans in the summer but goalkeeper Vítor Hugo, Diece, Diego Sol and Teka, all close-season signings, made telling contributions in the elite round.
Best performance: winners 2010
Main round: bye
Elite round: MNK Nacional Zagreb 1-0, FC Time Lviv 2-1, KMF Ekonomac Kragujevac 5-2 (Group A winners)
Key players: César Paulo, Joel Queirós, Pedro Costa, Arnaldo, Diece
Sporting Clube de Portugal
Sporting came from behind to beat ElPozo Murcia FS 5-3 in their elite round decider – meaning no Spanish side have made the finals for the first time since the new format began in 2006/07. Hosts of the eight-team tournament that concluded the inaugural UEFA Futsal Cup in 2001/02, Sporting reached the semi-finals that year but have not got as far again until this season. Having taken the league title from newly-minted European champions Benfica last term, Sporting were then boosted by the return of coach Orlando Duarte after a decade at the national-team helm to replace Fernandes. Their collection of Portuguese talents like Leitão and Cardinal and Brazilians including Déo, Divanei and Alex is proving a potent mix.
Best performance: semi-finals 2002
Main round: KMF Zelezarec Skopje 5-1, FC Kobarid 2-1, Slov-Matic Bratislava 2-1 (Group 1 winners)
Elite round: FK EP Chrudim 4-4, City'us Târgu Mure? 4-1, ElPozo Murcia FS 5-3 (Group D winners)
Key players: João Benedito, Pedro Cary, Déo, Leitão, Cardinal