Defending champions Russia and four time winners Brazil will take centre stage on the opening day of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013. FIFA.com previews all the action, including appearances by the African and Asian champions.
Match of the day
Russia-Japan, Wednesday 18 September, Group D, 19:00 (local time)
Russia begin the defence of their title against the Asian runners-up, who could pose a bigger threat than their 14th-place finish at the previous edition might suggest. The Japanese have traditionally compensated for their smaller physiques with greater speed and resistance, and they will need to be at their very best to take a positive result from this game.
As for the reigning champions, they have been in imperious form all season, winning not only the last stage of the Euro Beach Soccer League but also the Superfinal. Throughout qualifying, they dealt comfortably with the pressure of being among the favourites for this competition but know only too well that a good start is essential in a FIFA Beach World Cup where any slip-up can prove fatal.
Wednesday’s other Group D fixture pits debutants Paraguay against a Côte d'Ivoire side hoping to improve on a group-stage exit in their first appearance four years ago in Dubai. The South Americans secured their berth in Tahiti after a historic victory over Brazil, a result that has put them firmly in the dark-horse category. A testing opening feature again a young but powerful Ivorian side will go some way to confirming if that status is justified.
The loss to Paraguay does not appear to have dented the confidence of Brazil, who kick off their Group C games against Iran. Unsurprisingly, A Seleção start the tournament as firm favourites to lift their fifth world crown, a feat denied them by Russia in the 2011 final in Ravenna. While Team Melli failed to survive the group phase at their four previous appearances in the competition, this is the first time they arrive as Asian champions and they should therefore provide good test of Brazil’s title credentials.
In the same section, Ukraine face Senegal in a match that could well shape their respective group fortunes. The European side have shown they are capable of taking on any opponent, although this has not always translated into consistent results – a fact illustrated by their failure to emerge from the group phase in 2011. The east Africans, by contrast, are two time continental champions and will be able to draw on the experience of having reached the quarter-finals last time out in Italy.
Player to watch
The Brazil pivot will be doubtless be more concerned with helping his side reclaim the world crown than retaining the adidas Golden Boot he picked up for top-scoring in Italy two years ago. That said, the two things could go hand in hand, with A Seleção’s title aspirations depending in no small measure on the goal-scoring touch of this vastly experienced 36-year-old.
- 22/11. Côte d'Ivoire have by far the youngest squad at Tahiti 2013, with an average age of just 22 years and 11 months, followed by El Salvador (25 years and four months) and Senegal (25 and eight). And while the youngest individual at this edition will be 17-year-old Anthony Talo of Solomon Islands, the aforementioned Ivorians have in their ranks three of the five youngest players on show: Ibrahim Diarrassouba (18), Bile Kablan (20) and Guy Djedjed (21).
"We have to be honest with ourselves. We may not be at the same level as the others in terms of technique, but we’ll chase down every single ball. We all look out for each other, so rest assured we’ll make life hard for whichever side we face,” Paraguay wide-man Edgar Barreto ahead of his side’s opening game against Côte d'Ivoire.