As the dust clears on the draw for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009, we are left with four highly competitive and intriguing groups. Group C in particular has a fearsome look to it, with Russia, who finished second in European qualifying and have made giant strides in recent years, drawn against heavyweights Italy and Argentina. This section will prove a baptism of fire for Costa Rica, making their debut at the global showpiece.
"I'd have preferred a different group," Argentina defender Santiago Hilaire told FIFA.com. "Italy are a strange team; they were finalists last year, but had to qualify via a play-off this time around. That said, they are a top-quality side, thanks to a competitive domestic league and all the years they've been playing together."
"Russia have been title contenders for the last couple of years now and, though we beat them in Marseille, I've seen them play since and they look unbelievable," continued Hilaire. "We don't know as much about Costa Rica, but I doubt they'll be easy opponents. What's more, whoever finishes second in our group is bound to come up against Brazil."
Nor will the host nation have an easy time of it, given that the United Arab Emirates have been grouped with three-time Oceania champions the Solomon Islands, as well as beach soccer stalwarts Portugal and Uruguay. "It's a strong group, though I'm confident in my team's chances," said UAE's Brazilian coach Marcelo Mendes.
"We've picked up a lot of experience at previous tournaments and we've worked really hard for the last two years to make sure we're ready. I've very optimistic about our chances of reaching the semi-finals."
"This World Cup has the potential to be the most evenly matched to date," added Portugal supremo Jose Miguel Mateus, whose team finished third at Marseilles 2008. "We've been drawn against two national teams who we've met before. The hosts will be even more motivated thanks to the support of their fans, which could prove a vital spur for their players. Uruguay are a regular face on the World Cup scene and very strong rivals, while Solomon Islands, though they may appear the easiest opponents, now have a lot of World Cup experience and will be dangerous."
"The host nation team will have huge support from their fans and will really help them put in a better performance," said Amarelle, considered one of the world's finest beach soccer players, after assisting FIFA Futsal and Beach Soccer Committee member Joan Cusco, who oversaw the draw. "The World Cup coming to Dubai is another landmark for this sport. It's a clear indicator of just how fast beach soccer is progressing," continued the prolific Spaniard.
European champions Spain, for their part, will be confident of reaching the quarter-finals after being drawn in Group B alongside African qualifying runners-up Côte d'Ivoire, CONCACAF champions El Salvador and an Asian representative that shall be identified once the AFC qualifying tournament takes place shortly.
Holders Brazil, meanwhile, kick off their title defence against Nigeria, before meeting Switzerland and the second Asian representative. "It's not gone too badly for us," said the clearly confident Swiss trainer Angelo Schirinzi. "Of course we've got the world champs, but you know what? That means if we manage to finish second in the group we can only meet them again in the final.
But A Seleção remain hungry for success, despite claiming three of the four beach soccer world titles played under the FIFA banner. It is therefore fitting that the last word goes to Brazil talent Bruno, who attended the 27 August draw at the Dubai World Trade Center. He said: "We're going to Dubai to put on a great show for the world. We train every day with the aim of going to the World Cup and winning it."