The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009 kicks off on Monday with a mouthwatering line-up of matches. This year's competition has a new format, as the group stage will be fully completed in the first three days, meaning that each team will play one match per day. So, by Monday, we will have seen all 16 teams in action. For the first time at this event, the stadium will be accessible by sea, but if you cannot climb aboard one of the free boats to see the games for yourself, just navigate FIFA.com for all the latest news.
Two ever-presents at the tournament since its inception in 2005 collide as Argentina, who have yet to progress beyond the quarter-finals, take on last-year's runners-up Italy, who qualified for Dubai at the expense of 2005 world champions France. With expectations high in both camps, both the Albicelestes and Azzurri will want to get off to the best possible start, so a hard-fought game is in prospect. The only previous meeting between the pair ended with the South Americans coming out on top via a 3-1 win in Rio de Janeiro in 2006.
In their opening match, hosts UAE will come up against tournament heavyweights Portugal, who have players like Alan, Belchior and the highest scorer in the tournament's history, Madjer. The Asians, who are coached by Brazilian Marcelo Mendes, will thus have a hard day's work before them if they hope to claim a win in front of their home fans.
Meanwhile, Brazil will begin the defence of the title, which they have won for the past three years, against African champions Nigeria, led by forward Isiaka Olawale. The Brazilians have never been beaten in their opening match.
Asian champions Japan will also have a tough opener as they come up against European stalwarts Spain, who have in their ranks goalkeeper Roberto Valeiro, adidas Golden Glove winner at Marseille 2008. Furthermore, despite six previous attempts, the Samurai Blue have never beaten a European side in the competition.
Many are tipping Russia as the dark horses in Dubai. The Europeans have improved immeasurably, and will be formidable opposition for debutants Costa Rica. Fellow newcomers Côte d'Ivoire will have a less daunting opener against CONCACAF champions El Salvador, who will be seeking a vast improvement on the three defeats they suffered in their first-ever appearance last year. Just as in 2006, Bahrain will open against a European side, in this case tournament newcomers Switzerland.
Player to watch
The Brazilian Benjamin, playing his fifth tournament, will be the oldest player taking part at 40 years and six months. In Brazil's opener, he will face the competition's youngest player, Nigerian Azeez Abu, 25 years his junior at just 15 and a half, as youth and experience go head-to-head.
96.16% - Brazil's astounding winning percentage in all their FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup qualifiers and tournament matches since 2005. The Seleção have won their last 35 competitive games, a figure that rises to an incredible 75 if all tournaments are included.
“We want to get off to the best possible start, and we know it'll be tough against the hosts. They're physically strong, very well organised, and more used to the conditions. Also, they'll have the support of all the home fans. It's not an easy group, so for now we'll take it one game at a time with the aim of going as far as possible.” Jose Mateus, Portugal coach
What's next (local time):
13:30 - Switzerland-Bahrain
13:30 - Uruguay-Solomon Islands
15:00 - Argentina-Italy
15:00 - Côte d'Ivoire-El Salvador
16:30 - Russia-Costa Rica
18:00 - Spain-Japan
19:30 - UAE -Portugal
21:30 - Brazil-Nigeria