A knockout encounter between Brazil and Portugal has become just as essential a feature of any FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup as sun, sand and lots of goals. For the sixth time in as many world finals the two meet on Saturday, with a place in the final of Ravenna/Italy 2011 at stake.
Brazil-Portugal, Stadio del Mare, Ravenna, 10 September 2011, 18.30 (local time)
These two leviathans of world beach soccer have grown accustomed to crossing swords in the latter stages of the competition, meeting in the quarter- or semi-finals at every single FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup since the inaugural tournament at Rio de Janeiro in 2005. A Seleção have had the upper hand of late, edging out the Lusitanians in the semis in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and doing the same in the quarters in 2007, their only defeat in the five encounters to date coming on penalties in the 2005 semi-final.
The road to the semis
No team performed more impressively in the group phase than Portugal, who fired in 19 goals in disposing of section rivals El Salvador, Argentina and Oman, while producing the most scintillating football so far seen at Ravenna/Italy 2011. By contrast, the four-time world champions spluttered in Group D. Scoring a mere 11 goals in their three games, the Brazilians needed penalties to see off Ukraine before recording one and three-goal margin wins over Japan and Mexico respectively.
Both sides found themselves up against it in the quarter-finals, where they were taken to extra-time, and beyond in the case of Portugal, by hard-running African opponents. After playing out a 4-4 draw with Senegal, the Portuguese squeezed into the last four by keeping their nerve in a penalty shootout, while Brazil found their goal touch against Nigeria only to make a catalogue of errors at the back. Hauled back to 8-8 after losing a three-goal lead in the closing seconds, they eventually won through 10-8 in extra-time, with the prolific Andre supplying half their goals.
29 - The number of FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup matches Brazil have gone unbeaten since losing in a penalty shootout to Portugal in the semi-finals at Rio 2005. Seven of the players in action that day are still on international duty, among them Madjer, who scored four of Portugal’s goals in the 6-6 draw that led to the shootout, and Brazil’s Jorginho, whose penalty miss settled the tie.
“We’ve faced Portugal in the semis or quarters every time since 2005 and luckily for us we’ve had the edge on those four occasions. We hope it stays that way, but for that to happen we have to improve a lot, an awful lot. We can’t make as many defensive mistakes as we did against Nigeria. We’re scoring goals but we’re conceding a lot too and we can’t let that happen when we play Portugal because it’s very hard to come back against them,” Brazil coach Alexandre Soares.
“We knew the best teams would make it through to the quarter-finals, and out of all the teams we could have faced no one would have made us work as hard as Senegal did. They’re a team that pushes you that bit harder, and when it comes to the crunch only the big teams can beat them. Thankfully we were up to the job and we need to keep our confidence levels up for the semi-final,” Portugal coach Ze Miguel Mateus.