Italy have come from three goals down to beat Portugal 4-3 and set up a semi-final meeting with either Spain or Russia. Humberto Honorio scored the winning goal in extra time to settle a thrilling match in which Ricardinho looked to have caused an upset with a sensational first-half hat-trick.
The Portugal No10 has been one of tournament’s most impressive players, but even the high standards set in previous matches were surpassed this evening. The first glimpse of the futsal masterclass that was about to unfold came inside two minutes, when Ricardinho danced inside the challenge of Marcio Forte and drilled a powerful right-foot shot just inside the left-hand post.
If that was good, his second was even better, with the Japan-based forward somehow adjusting his body-shape to crash home an overhead kick after Stefano Mammarella had saved Arnaldo’s initial effort. Italy were reeling and, just eight seconds later, Ricardinho completed his hat-trick, sweeping the ball high into the net from Cardinal’s low cross from the left.
It was difficult to see a way back into the match for Gli Azzurri at this stage, although they were given some hope when Cardinal – Portugal’s top scorer prior to this match – was sent off for a second bookable offence. However, even during the period in which they had an extra player, the Italians couldn’t find a way past the excellent Andre Sousa, and it took a penalty to bring them back into contention.
Saad Assis won it by luring Marinho into a clumsy challenge, and it was Assis himself who dusted himself down to take the kick, sending the keeper the wrong way with a well-struck left-foot shot into the top corner. As the half progressed, and with Portugal containing them fairly comfortably, Italy went with five outfield players, sending on Gabriel Lima in the goalkeeper’s jersey. And it was a move that paid near-immediate dividends, with Lima himself storming forward to fire powerfully beyond Andre Sousa with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Then, just as time looked to be running out for Italy, Lima fed Humberto Honorio, whose low cross was converted at the back post by Rodolfo Fortino. That forced the game into extra time and, having set up the equaliser, Honorio struck the decisive goal, drifting in from the right, shimmying past a challenge and firing left-footed into the bottom corner.
“This was a match of many emotions and, first of all, I must congratulate Portugal, who played very well and gave us many problems. It was only with great determination that we succeeded in turning the game in our favour, and I can only compliment my players on their technical and mental strength. It is when the situation is at its most difficult that you must show your personality on the pitch, and it was only by doing this that we overcame the difficulties posed to us,” Roberto Menichelli, Italy coach.
“It’s hard to find the words to express how we feel. To lose a three goal lead is of course a very bad outcome for us, and I can’t explain why it happened. We are very, very sad to be going out of the tournament in this way, and I feel we deserved more than to be going home after the quarter-finals. Overall, I think it’s been a pretty good tournament for us but we had hoped for a little more,” Cardinal, Portugal forward.