Russia are overwhelming favourites to beat surprise package El Salvador in the first semi-final at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011. It is the first meeting between the nations at this tournament.

The game
El Salvador-Russia, Saturday 10 September, 5 pm (local time)

The stakes
The pair’s progress through the tournament so far could hardly present more of a contrast. Russia arrived as strong contenders for the trophy, and have more than lived up to their billing so far. After cruising through their group with comfortable victories over Nigeria, Tahiti and Venezuela, the East Europeans never looked in trouble against quarter-final opponents Mexico.

El Salvador, contesting only their third FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and winless in their two previous appearances, opened in less than promising fashion with an 11–2 hiding at the hands of Portugal. In the wake of that crushing defeat, the pundits had more or less written off the Central Americans’ chances of making the next round, but coach Rudis Gonzalez’ men edged past Oman, before pulling off a surprise victory over Argentina to reach the last eight.

Their quarter-final opponents were Italy, but despite the challenge of meeting the hosts in front of their passionate home support, El Salvador sprang another major surprise with a dramatic extra-time victory. The man of the match honours went to four-goal Frank Velasquez, and Gonzalez and Co will be looking for another inspirational display from the in-form striker on Saturday.

The stat
- The El Salvador defence needs to be especially wary in the second period, as the Russians have won this phase in all of their games at the tournament so far. Eleven of the East Europeans’ 25 goals have fallen in the second 12-minute period.

The words
"We knew the Italians would be under pressure in the quarter-final, and we knew our team is capable of rising to every challenge. It'll be the same against Russia. I'm obviously not going to claim we’re favourites, but we'll fight hard to reach the final and continue our successful run here in Ravenna," El Salvador coach Rudis Gonzalez.

"The quarter-final against Mexico was an important match. There are no easy opponents at this stage of the tournament. The plane crash in our home country is a tragedy beyond belief. We're all in mourning, and our deepest sympathies go out to the relatives of the victims and our fellow countrymen," Russia striker Egor Eremeev.