When the final whistle sounded in Italy's last group game, it brought relief but also a little anxiety. The Italians had to hold their breath for a few minutes after their win over Costa Rica, as their progression to the quarter-finals of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009 hinged on another result: Russia could not lose to Argentina in normal time. And with a minute and a half to go in that game, it was all square at 3-3. From Arena 2, the Italians looked anxiously towards the main stand of the central stadium barely 80 metres away, flinching as the crowd reacted to each chance. But fortune was on their side, and now having secured second place in Group C, the Azzurri will next face Brazil on Friday.
“For us, it'll be a final,” says Simone Feudi, after the Italians' initial exuberance had passed. “I think we had the toughest group of all, as three great teams were battling for two qualification places. At least we've achieved our first objective. Given how hotly-contested a group it was, I don't think we could have done any better,” he says.
The Squadra Azzurra struggled in their three group games, beating Argentina after extra time, losing to Russia and overcoming Costa Rica in a hard-fought final match to qualify. The Italians also had to fight to qualify for the tournament itself, overcoming 2005 world champions France in the European play-off. “The team is now calm and relaxed. We're delighted to have survived in a really difficult group,” says Feudi, who has played in all four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups for which Italy have qualified.
“It's just a pity that we haven't managed to avoid Brazil, but what can we do...we'll take them on, and if we end up losing, we'll go home with our heads held high,” he smiles resignedly.
Like everyone else, he knows that Brazil are formidable opponents - as witnessed by their 38-game winning streak in competitive action. Their last meaningful defeat came in the semi-final of this competition in 2005. The Azzurri felt the devastating power of the Brazilians first hand at the final of Marseille 2008, where they lost 5-3. “We may not get as far as we did last year, but it won't be any less of an achievement. We'll give our all, and if we have to bow out, we'll do so with dignity against the Brazilians,” he says.
Switzerland player Angelo Schirinzi has some advice for the Italians ahead of their clash with the South Americans, even though they themselves came off second best to the Auriverde: “Against Brazil, you've got to play quickly and never give up. You need total concentration and a lot of skill, and you can't make any mistakes... and even then...”
“I'd have preferred to play Switzerland,” laughs Feudi, “even though they've been playing brilliantly so far. There have been some surprising results, and for me Japan have been a revelation, as they beat Spain on the way to topping their group, so they deserve great praise.”
Now that qualification has been achieved, next on the agenda is to size up the upcoming opponents. So how do you beat Brazil? “Well that's a really tough question. I'm still trying to find the answer, but when I've worked it out, I'll let you know,” he laughs.