Brazil’s dominance at FIFA Futsal World Cups is staggering. Since winning the inaugural tournament in 1989, the South Americans have taken a further three titles. Spain are the only team to have broken A Seleção’s grip on the trophy, triumphing in 2000 and 2004.
What's more, four years ago the two heavyweights met in the final in Rio de Janeiro, where the hosts wrestled the silverware back following a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory. So, at the upcoming seventh edition of the showpiece, set to take place in Thailand from 1 to 18 November, it is hardly surprising the only two nations ever to win the tournament are once again favourites for the crown.
However, is the fact that Brazil only stumbled to a third-place finish in South American qualification behind Argentina and Paraguay a warning sign for A Seleção? They would say no, with confidence still remaining high in the defending champions’ camp.
"Given the high expectations in Brazil, of course there was huge disappointment with our performance," Brazil coach Marcos Sorato told FIFA.com. “But Brazil is one of the best countries at developing players, if not the best.”
Meanwhile, Spain have not lost a match in open play in over seven years. And after winning two FIFA Futsal World Cups and five European titles in the last 12 years, the Iberians have their sights firmly set on the reclaiming the biggest prize in the discipline.
“On past performances, Brazil and Spain are certainly the favourites," veteran Kike told FIFA.com, while keeping a wary eye on the rest of the pack. "But there are other teams who’ll be difficult to beat. Russia definitely have one of the strongest sides, but Italy, Portugal, Argentina and Japan will be up there too.”
Brazilian icon Falcao also believes there will be little to choose between the participating teams. “Brazil and Spain are definitely at the top of the pile, they should both make it to the semi-finals at least," he also told FIFA.com. "Russia are dark horses, they’re a side who have what it takes to become champions. But Iran, Portugal and Paraguay could also cause a few upsets too.”
Closing the gap
Recent events have shown that Brazil and Spain can take nothing for granted. Argentina and Paraguay will be especially keen to build on their displays during CONMEBOL qualifying, while European teams have taken huge strides forward of late. Russia, Italy and Portugal, to name but three, will no doubt be looking to justify the aforementioned high praise from Kike and Falcao.
Having won the AFC Futsal Championship ten times, Iran are without doubt Asia’s powerhouse, but newly-crowned AFC champions Japan will also fancy their chances on the world stage. Their self-belief will have been further boosted by a noteworthy 3-3 draw against Brazil last week.
Africa’s hopes of glory rest largely on Egypt’s shoulders. Having participated at every tournament since 1996, they are the continent’s leading lights. Of the remaining participants, Libya, newcomers Morocco, as well as Australia and Kuwait do not have such lofty expectations and will have set surviving the group stage as their primary aim.
The CONCACAF zone will be represented by a highly-promising quartet. Continental champions Costa Rica return to the FIFA Futsal World Cup after a 12-year absence, while Guatemala make their third appearance. Mexico and Panama find themselves in unfamiliar territory though, after breaking new ground in reaching the finals for the first time.
Ukraine (fourth at Spain 1996) and Czech Republic (third at the UEFA Futsal EURO 2010) have already demonstrated their quality, but debutants Serbia and Colombia have still to prove they have what it takes to compete at the highest level.
Oceania champions Solomon Islands have improved greatly since their disappointing showing at Brazil 2008 and were even mentioned in glowing terms by Spain coach Venancio Lopez recently. Hosts Thailand complete the tournament line-up and have set a quarter-final place as their minimum target, after finishing as runners-up at the AFC Futsal Championships in May.
The stage is set for the 24 nations to pursue their dreams of FIFA Futsal World Cup glory. While plenty of twists and turns are sure to come, one thing is already certain: Futsal fans can look forward to a spectacular tournament full of flair, flicks and extraordinary tricks.