There may have been a few sceptics beforehand, but they were forced to eat their words yesterday as Portugal fully justified their tag as one of the strongest beach soccer nations on the planet. After dominating the European League all summer, Portugal outclassed world champions France during the Superfinal in Marseilles and booked themselves a ticket to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 in the process.
They did so in front a large, partisan home crowd as well, with many supporters having shown up to spur on Eric Cantona and his charges. Their encouragement ultimately proved insufficient, though, as a real gulf seems to have opened up this season between the two sides who memorably contested the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup final in May 2005.
It was no surprise, then, when Madjer underlined the difference between the two teams with an excellent, early brace. His goals set the Lusitanians on their way, and they controlled the rest of the encounter to come away with a 3-1 win.
"We really need to get back what made us so strong last year," confessed French player Thierry Ottavy afterwards. "We have to concentrate a lot more and even motivate ourselves more than we've been doing if we want to raise our game and not miss out. We've still got an opportunity in the "Last chance bracket" so it's up to us to start focusing."
In the day's other game, top spot in Group B was at stake between Poland and Spain, with both sides keen to avoid facing the in-form Portuguese in the semi-finals. Despite all their creativity, though, the Poles could do nothing to hold back Spain's powerful star striker Amarelle.
The southpaw netted four of his team's five goals, including the two crucial third-period strikes that sealed the win, to once again stamp his undeniable class on the tournament.
All is far from bleak for Poland, however, as they have nonetheless assured themselves of qualification for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006, alongside Italy, Spain and Portugal . That leaves just one last place up for grabs, with Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Ukraine, Montenegro, Greece, France and England all hoping to collect it as the "Last chance bracket" event gets underway today.
Portugal 3 France 1
Spain 5 Poland 3
1 -. Portugal, 5 points (2 matches) *
2 -. Italy, 3 points (2 matches) *
3 -. France, 0 point (2 matches)
1 -. Spain, 6 points (2 matches) *
2 -. Poland, 3 points (2 matches) *
3 -. Ukraine, 0 point (2 matches)
* Qualified for Saturday's semi-finals and the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006.
Last chance bracket
Montenegro 5 Netherlands 4
England 10 Russia 0 (England win by forfeit)
Belgium 6 Czech Republic 5
Hungary 4 Germany 2
The day's programme - Last chance bracket - Friday 25 August
Belgium - Switzerland (15:15)
Hungary - Ukraine (16:30)
Montenegro - Greece (17:45)
France - England (19:00)
The winner of the "Last chance bracket" will qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006.