THE DAY REPLAYED - The final of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005 will be 100% European, as France and Portugal prepare to face each other for the title tomorrow. Les Bleus fulfilled most people's expectations by overcoming Japan, but Portugal's surprise victory over Brazil has plunged the hosts into a deep state of shock. The mission now for the Portuguese will be to avenge their loss to France in the European Championship final last year. Meanwhile, the Auriverde will have to lift themselves from today's disappointment to take on Japan in the match for third place.
France 4-1 Japan: the Japanese gave everything
"Japan are a very well-organised team, who fight hard and never give up," commented Eric Cantona after the match, full of admiration for his beaten opponents. "They are also blessed with an excellent player in Kawaharazuka, and to see them in the semi-finals was great news for Japanese sport, Asian sport and beach soccer in general." Indeed, the easy semi-final win many people predicted was anything but for Cantona's charges. Les Bleus had to be at the top of their game and strong at the back to see off the typically determined Japanese. Two days after having put seven past Spain in the quarter-finals, France had to content themselves with the four goals scored by Mendy (2), Sciortino and Cardoso.
Brazil 6-6 (1-2 penalties) Portugal : Portugal pushed to the limits
The second semi-final provided undoubtedly one of the most brilliant games of beach soccer in recent history. Two teams devoted to spectacular play produced a magnificent spectacle for the assembled crowd, and it took the lottery of penalty kicks to separate them in the end. The lead passed back and forth time and time again until Brazil's Benjamin responded to Alan in extra-time. But it was talented Portuguese striker Madjer who emerged as man of the match. "He really had a superb day today," Brazil coach Índio was forced to admit. He could easily have added that Madjer looked unstoppable, scoring four of his team's goals before burying the decisive penalty.
"All we did was take advantage of our opponents' mistakes," said Madjer with characteristic humility. Without ever panicking, Portugal crucially managed to pull back a two-goal deficit in the final period. "We didn't employ any particular tactic to beat this Brazilian side," explained their coach, Zé Miguel. "We know them as well as they know us. The most important thing was to cope with the heat and make sure we could last the whole game." Tomorrow, the team that began the tournament as favourites will try to content themselves with third place in this inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. It is certainly not what they were expecting, but Portugal saw out the last few minutes with all the composure of a side who felt they deserved their place in the final: "We prepared ourselves to play all week long, so we'll be ready tomorrow."