THE DAY REPLAYED - The quarter-finals of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005 served up a fine evening's football. With 38 goals in the four encounters, it was more free scoring than any of the first-round match days, and when the avalanche of goals subsided, France, Portugal, Japan and Brazil emerged to take their places in the semi-finals.
France 7 Spain 4: France live up to their billing
Once again, Les Bleus made a big impression with the way they brushed aside Spain's challenge. "We have to admit that we were expecting a tougher match," confessed the French striker Anthony Mendy. "But the day off we've just had did us the world of good, and now we're more ready than ever to go all the way."
And with performances such as this, it is easy to understand the enormous self-belief that seems to infuse the French ranks. As for the Spaniards, they have no doubt paid a heavy price for their European Championship failure. Having failed to claim one of the first three places last year, the Iberians were effectively forced to play two extra qualifying games before the start of this FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. As a result, Joaquín Alonso's weary charges were never really on their mettle and against this lethal France side, all weaknesses are soon ruthlessly exposed.
Portugal 5 Ukraine 3: Portuguese get the job done
This quarter-final promised an interesting clash of styles between the exciting Iberians and the well-drilled Eastern Europeans. And the crowd that gathered on the sands of Rio were not disappointed, for if Portugal never really looked in any danger, it was down to the experience of its established defensive duo of Hernani and Marinho. Sticking like shadows to the Ukrainian forwards all night, they gradually nullified the entire Ukrainian threat.
Up the other end, three goals from the youthful Jonas-Belchior (aged 22) and another Madjer brace ensured it was mission accomplished for the Lusitanians.
"We can have no excuses tonight, as none of us really performed out there," admitted the Ukrainian coach Victor Moroz after the game. But in what was the former Russian republic's first participation in a global beach soccer tournament, they will have left a firm impression of a team on the rise and look destined to become a major force in the discipline.
Uruguay 3 Japan 4: Japan make history
In front of 10,000 spectators allied to their cause, Japan created the shock of the night by knocking Uruguay out of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Even more than their performance, it was the dramatic nature of the encounter that had the whole stadium on tenterhooks. Dominant in terms of possession but trailing by an incredible 3 goals to nil with 5 minutes remaining, the Japanese somehow managed to overturn the deficit, leaving the Uruguayan players absolutely speechless.
"This quarter-final was won in the mind, and with such a crowd behind us, we could only be 100% determined. I am very proud of my players," declared Japan's coach Rui Ramos. Beaten only by Brazil in the final of the American qualifiers, Uruguay's ambitions had extended well beyond this stage of the competition, but their failure to keep their shape right through to the final whistle cost them dear.
Brazil 9 Argentina 3: an uneven Clasico
The Auriverde may have only narrowly beaten this side in the semi-final of the American qualifiers (2-0), but this time the score was decidedly more conclusive. Looking much more lively than two days ago against Spain, Romario and Co. never gave a look-in to an Albiceleste side soon thrown into disarray.
"It can't have been the partisan atmosphere that troubled us as we're used to playing against Brazil," explained the nonplussed Argentine coach, Carlos Juárez. "But our competitive spirit remains intact and we will come back a stronger side next year."
The Brazilians, for their part, are taking their semi-final date in their stride. For them, the only thing that counts is the title, as Romario confirms: "By Monday, I hope to have won two World Cups in two different disciplines."
He would no doubt dedicate such a title triumph to the auriverde coach Índio, to whom he attributes a large share of the credit for Brazil's performances: "I can't really compare anyone to Carlos Alberto Parreira, but I can tell you that he has one fantastic quality: the ability to instil an excellent spirit within the team, which is even more important when the squad is so small."
The semi-finals (to be played on Saturday)
France-Japan, 9.30am local time