CONMEBOL nations chase four places in Thailand

Starting this Sunday 15 April in Gramado, Brazil – some 115km from Porto Alegre – the South American Futsal qualifying tournament will have four places up for grabs for this year’s FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand, being held this November.

The ten participating nations have been divided into two sections, with Group A containing reigning world champions Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia and Group B including Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. The group phase will be played in a round-robin format, with the top two teams in each section progressing to the semi-finals.

All four semi-finalists will secure their passage to Thailand 2012, though they are sure to continue to battle it out fiercely for the continental throne. FIFA.com takes a look ahead at a qualifying competition that will come to its exciting conclusion on Saturday 22 April.

Group A: Two cast-iron contenders
Boasting no fewer than four FIFA Futsal World Cup titles and one runners-up finish, Brazil are indisputably the planet’s leading futsal force. Though they will be without the services of established performers Marquinho and Lenisio, A Seleção will be able to count on the discipline’s highest-profile player – Falcao – who was inspirational in Brazil’s victory as hosts in 2008.

“This is an important period for us, because we’re going to be competing for a place at the World Cup: the biggest challenge we’ve faced since I took charge,” said coach Marcos Sorato, at the helm since 2009. “Our first priority is qualifying, then we’ll push for the title.”

Also heavily favoured to progress are Argentina who, like Brazil, have appeared at every FIFA Futsal World Cup to date. La Albiceleste head to Gramado with a young squad that held A Canarinha to a 2-2 draw in the group stages of last year’s Copa America de Futsal, though they did go down 5-1 to the same team in the final of that event.

Brazil aside, on paper we’re favourites and should qualify without any trouble,” said experienced Argentinian defender Sebastian Corazza. “But in these kinds of games you need to get ahead quickly if you want to avoid getting caught out later.”

Of the remaining group members, Peru would appear to be a notch above Chile, who they defeated in the Copa America, as well as a Bolivia squad that failed to pick up any points in that continental showpiece.

Group B: Hard to call
Traditionally, Paraguay have always been one of South America’s leading sides, a fact borne out by their four trips to FIFA Futsal World Cups – including the two most recent at Brazil 2008 and Chinese Taipei 2004. Currently rated the region’s third-best team, La Albirroja’s squad in Gramado includes eight players who ply their trade in the highly competitive Italian futsal scene.

Tussling with them for top spot will be Uruguay, who denied Paraguay a place at both Spain 1996 and Guatemala 2000 and also appeared at Brazil 2008, though La Celeste did miss out on the semis at the 2011 Copa America. Colombia, for their part, will be high in confidence having sprung a shock at said Copa by going unbeaten through the group phase and eventually finishing in fourth place.

Finally we come to Venezuela, who will be keen to use this competition to gain valuable experience for the future, and an Ecuador squad determined to bounce back after missing the Copa America.