Portugal head into this weekend's final round of European Championship qualifying anxious for a win in their first match against Slovakia tonight in Istanbul, Turkey according to a report on the official site of the Portuguese Volleyball Federation.
Portugal, ranked 14th in the world, are in the precarious position of sitting in first-equal place with Slovakia in Pool 4 having won two of their first three matches but to guarantee the top spot and qualification for the European Championship, which will be held in Germany in September, they must win two of their three remaining matches this weekend.
The four teams, which top each of the four qualifying pools and two of the best second-place finishers qualify for the European Championship and with key coaches such as Juan Diaz and António Guerra in charge, there is a dose of confidence within the Portuguese team that they can overcome the likes of Slovakia, hosts Turkey and the Ukraine but Diaz, a Cuban national, has already set a tone of realism.
"Our adversaries are all at the same level but the most difficult game will be the first one," Diaz said. "Not because our opponent is Slovakia, but because it is always important not to start a competition with a defeat. We go in to this weekend aiming for qualification and I think it is perfectly within reach.
"In this phase, Turkey looks to be the most difficult adversary due to the fact that they rarely play at home, so the local support is expected to be immense. Of the remaining games, all of the teams are strong and they can never be underestimated".
The Portugal skipper Ubirajara Pereira is also expecting a difficult time in qualification but he believes his team wont let the chance of qualifying for a tournament as prestigious as the European Championship go by. "It is a very even pool, in that there is no favorite," Pereira said. "I think the game with Slovakia is going to be decisive for us; therefore we need to be thoroughly prepared as the first game is always important because a win will help so much with courage and motivation.
"I am confident because our team has worked very well in the last few days and despite our short preparation time we are going to give everything to obtain first place.
"On Saturday we are expecting to find a Turkish side well motivated, mainly by the fact of playing at home, but it is obvious that in a group so even that anything can happen."