Russia
© AFP

The past
Although Russia harbour genuine ambitions of breaking Brazil and Spain’s duopoly at the FIFA Futsal World Cup, their record at the tournament is decidedly mixed. Their first experience in 1992 ended in an inauspicious first round exit, and they failed to even qualify for the 2004 edition in Chinese Taipei. Nonetheless, all three of their most recent appearances at the global showpiece have yielded a place in the semi-finals. Pipped to third place by Italy four years ago, and by Portugal in 2000, the high point of the Russians’ FIFA Futsal World Cup history thus far came when they claimed bronze with a 3-2 win over Ukraine at Spain 1996.

The present
Russia’s reputation as one of the likely challengers to futsal’s ‘big two’ in Thailand was strengthened in February when they pushed Spain all the way in a dramatic UEFA European Futsal Championship final. The Spaniards, winners in each of the continental tournament’s three previous editions, required extra time, and more than a little luck, to see off a Russian side that, in the words of victorious coach Jose Venancio Lopez, “probably deserved to win”.

The future
Russia are sure to figure among the teams to watch in Thailand, particularly after their Brazil-born trio of Gustavo, Cirilo and Pula - top scorer in 2008 - shone once again at the European showpiece. Victories over the likes of Croatia, Serbia and the Netherlands in those continental finals, not to mention that near miss against Spain, will give Sergey Skorovich’s side justifiable confidence that 2012 can be their year.

Facts and figures
Key players
Sirilo, Alexander Fukin, Pula, Gustavo

Qualification in numbers
The Russians cruised through the main round of European preliminaries, racking up three successive wins over Latvia, Kazakhstan and Hungary, and triumphing by an aggregate margin of 10-2. Their play-off against proved unexpectedly tricky though, with Azerbaijan –narrowly beaten 3-2 in the first leg – battling their way to a 2-2 draw in the return to ensure plenty of nervy moments.

The stat
16 – The number of goals Russia’s Pula scored at Brazil 2008, enabling him to pip Falcao in the race to become the tournament’s top scorer.