The last day of group phase action at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011 is set to start and finish on a decisive note. Each of the day’s first and last encounters – Ukraine-Mexico and Tahiti-Nigeria – are all-or-nothing fixtures, with the winners going through to the quarter-finals and the losers packing their bags for home.
In between these two matches, already qualified title contenders Russia and Brazil both meet teams that no longer have a chance at progression, in the shape of Venezuela and Japan respectively.
Game of the day
Ukraine-Mexico, Group D – 15:30 (local time)
The top dogs in European qualifying and their CONCACAF counterparts have followed a similar path thus far: performing well in defeat against Brazil and racking up hard-fought wins over Japan. All of which means there is only one way to settle who will clinch the section’s last available quarter-final berth - by going head-to-head.
What began as merely an opportunity to gain experience at the highest level has developed into much more for Tahiti. The Oceania champions, who are FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup debutants, won their opening group game 5-2 against Venezuela and kept a fearsome Russian attack at bay for nearly two thirds of their meeting before falling to a 5-0 defeat.
The three points from the Venezuela game mean that the Tiki Toa (Warrior Men) go into their final Group C match able to secure a historic passage into the next phase. To do so, however, they will have to overcome a Nigerian side who are also looking to progress - having reached the last eight at the 2007 edition only to bow out at the hands of Uruguay.
Russia, for their part, who are guaranteed to finish top of Group C, are looking to extend their 100 per cent start and enable key trio Egor Shaykov, Ilya Leonov and Dmitry Shishin to continue honing their skills prior to the knockout rounds. Opponents La Vinotinto, meanwhile, have only pride to play for, but would dearly love to end their first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup adventure with a first win.
In the same boat are Japan, who are also destined to head for the exit door after narrow 3-2 and 4-2 defeats against Mexico and Ukraine respectively. Standing in the way of the Japanese’s aim of leaving on a positive note are none other than holders and four-time competition winners Brazil. Nor do the record books provide any consolation for Ruy Ramos’ charges, with Japan having lost all three of their previous games against A Seleção at the finals: 11-2 in 2005, 10-2 in 2006 and 8-1 in 2008.
Player to watch
Oleg Zborovskyi (UKR)
The Ukrainian No9 has shown a knack for scoring decisive strikes, particularly one against Brazil and another versus the Japanese. Yet what has really caught the eye is Zborovskyi’s stunning array of bicycle kicks and other acrobatic manoeuvres, which are worth the entry fee alone.
8 – Illustrating the evenly balanced nature of Group D, which features four teams which all won their continental qualifying events, is the relatively discreet dominance shown by the all-conquering Brazilians. Yes A Verde e Amarelo have two wins from two, though they were only able to beat Ukraine on penalties and have never scored as few goals in their two opening matches at a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Their previous low had been 11 at Marseille 2008.
“As soon as we picked up that hard-fought victory against Japan in our opening game, the situation became relatively clear-cut and we assumed that we’d finish our group campaign with a decisive game against the Ukrainians. They’re a strong team, as they proved in their match with Brazil, but we’re ready to fight for that qualifying berth,” Mexico coach Ramon Raya.
What’s next? (all times are local)