FIFA.com sets the scene for what promises to be a thrilling Thursday afternoon as Marseille 2008 reaches the quarter-final stage.
Given that both sides have never looked stronger, the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup meeting between the two could not have come at a better time. Led by the three Hilaires (Santiago, Federico and Ezequiel), all of whom have been in peak form, the Albiceleste proved exceptionally strong in the group phase, not least in goal, where Marcelo Salgueiro is well on the way to becoming one of the best exponents of his art in the world. Narrow 3-2 losers to Brazil in their section, Spain can count on the sublime skills of Amarelle up front and the trademark agility of Roberto Valeiro between the posts, all of which should ensure an open and closely contested tie.
The other games
Portugal will start the day's opening game against Uruguay as slight favourites. Not only do Ze Miguel's men have history on their side after defeating the Celeste 5-4 in the group phase at Rio de Janeiro 2006, more importantly they powered their way through Group B. The solid Charrúas are a more potent attacking outfit these days, however, and in Ricar, Martin and Parrillo they have come up with a highly effective attacking trio.
Over the last three years, no side has posed Brazil more problems than Russia did in the first round in 2007, when the two-time world champions needed penalties to prevail. Even so, Nikolai Pisarev and his team can expect a tough afternoon against the defending champions. Goalkeeper Andrey Bukhlitskiy will need to be at his very best if they are to have a hope.
In the final last-eight match-up, France and Italy cross paths for the first time ever in the competition. The hosts will no doubt be drawing inspiration from their last outing against Uruguay as they seek to halt the smoothly functioning Italian machine, and will be counting on prolific duo Jeremy Basquaise and Didier Samoun to blunt the threat posed by Roberto Pasquali and his cohorts.
Player to watch
With six goals and four assists to his name, the diminutive Portuguese has been the most incisive player to date at Marseille 2008. Madjer's inseparable attacking partner will need to keep up that form when Portugal come up against Uruguay's well-drilled defence in Thursday's first quarter-final.
What they said
"We know this Russia team well and we know they're going to pose us problems. Our strength is our team play and if we perform at our highest level, we should go through. Only God can stop us (laughs)," Mao, Brazil goalkeeper.