The electric atmosphere of the most decisive games in the group phase will be the norm from now on here at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2011, with the final whistle of every match from Thursday onwards spelling the end of a team’s stay in Ravenna. FIFA.com takes a look ahead at the eagerly anticipated quarter-final action.
Game of the day
Portugal-Senegal, 17/00 (local time)
There is little doubt that Portugal have been the most eye-catching team thus far, thanks to their fluidity and breathtaking attacking play. Yet coach Ze Miguel Mateus and his experienced charges know that their 24 goals thus far will count for nothing if they do not perform against last-eight rivals Senegal.
The African champions proved they are no slouches either by hitting 17 goals in their three group games – the competition’s third-best tally – while they have also stood out for their sheer physical power, as well as the loyal and enthusiastic following they bring to the Stadio del Mare.
Anyone who witnessed how hosts Gli Azzurri responded to the fierce pressure of their final group match cannot help but respect Massimiliano Esposito’s boys. In front of a packed stadium and up against Dubai 2009 runners-up Switzerland, the Italians went 1-0 down, battled back in front and, despite conceding an equaliser with less than a minute remaining, stormed forward to clinch a 3-2 win and a quarter-final berth via a late Francesco Corosiniti strike.
To reach the semi-finals, the host nation must overcome an El Salvador squad determined to build on their historic first appearance in the knockout stages of a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Indeed, the Salvadorans had lost all six of their matches at the finals prior to Ravenna 2011, where they have broken their duck in style with 4-3 Group B wins over both Oman and Argentina.
Nobody, however, cut it as fine as Mexico when it came to guaranteeing their involvement in the last eight. After a gruelling encounter with much-fancied Ukraine, the Rio de Janeiro 2007 runners-up were taken to penalties, where goalkeeper Hector Robles emerged as his team's hero. Next up for El Tri is sure to be another fierce contest against Russia, who share a similar style to the Ukrainians but have been in much hotter form here in Italy. Indeed, the winners of August’s Euro Beach Soccer League Superfinal are the only team – Portugal aside – to have won all three of their first-round matches in normal time.
After suffering a scare in their opener against Ukraine – when they needed keeper Mao at his very best to secure a shoot-out success – Brazil extended an unbeaten streak that spans all the way back to the match for third place at Rio de Janeiro 2005. Yet the winners of the last four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups are finding the going tougher this time around, having struck just 11 goals in their three group games.
That average of 3.6 per match compares unfavourably to their 7.4 average from their five previous appearances at the finals, and A Seleção will not find life any easier against a gritty Nigerian side. The Africans stamped their ticket to the quarters in their final Group C game, when picking up a 4-1 win over debutants Tahiti to cement second place in the section.
Player to watch
Pape Koukpaki (SEN)
The imposing Senegalese No9 has found the net five times thus far to stand second in the tournament’s scorers’ charts, alongside Nigeria’s Victor Tale, despite having played just two games. Indeed, a suspension for two yellow cards meant the giant attacker had to sit out the 5-3 win over Iran that sent the African champions into the last eight. The target man will be back and raring to go against on-form Portugal, who will have to find a way to cut off Koukpaki’s main supply line: the accurate throws of keeper Al Seyni Ndiaye.
2 – Brazil and Portugal are now the only nations to have reached the quarter-finals of every edition of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup to date. Uruguay, who achieved that feat in the first five finals, failed even to qualify for Ravenna 2011.
“Beach soccer is getting more and more tactical. Every team is now more disciplined and marks more tightly. That’s why, in general, there are fewer goals being scored. (Tournament debutants) Tahiti, for example, performed to a much higher standard than Solomon Islands did at their first finals back in 2006. So, I’ve not got the slightest doubt that we’re going to find the going tough against Nigeria too. They’re a very quick team with World Cup experience,” Brazil coach Alexandre Soares.
Italy-El Salvador (18.30)
All times are local