THE DAY REPLAYED - As a fine but persistent drizzle fell over
Rio de Janeiro on the morning of Thursday 2 November, the scorching
sun that would later illuminate the world's finest exponents of
beach soccer was as yet nowhere to be seen.
Undeterred by the inclement weather conditions, two thousand fans had queued patiently along the Avenida Atlantica for their tickets, and they would not be disappointed. As the goals flew in and excitement reigned supreme, the clouds soon made way for the kind of searing heat typical of this most famous of Brazilian cities.
Out on the sands of the Copacabana, Argentina and Portugal, two of the pre-tournament favourites, were certainly made to sweat for vital opening-day successes over Nigeria and Uruguay respectively, while Bahrain boosted their bourgeoning reputation with an impressive win over Italy. However, the day's big story came from the Solomon Islands, their defeat of Cameroon being their first-ever win in the final phase of a FIFA competition.
Argentina 5 - 4 Nigeria: Experience proves decisive
Despite touching down in Rio de Janeiro a matter of hours before kick-off, the Africans showed no sign of jet lag as they tore into an experienced Albiceleste side. Unfortunately for Nigeria, their over-exuberance would eventually cost them dear against the wily Argentinians, whose ruthless finishing compensated for an off-colour display. Inspired performances from the Lopez Hilaire brothers and a superb brace from deadly front-man Facundo Minico would eventually win the day for the South Americans, who had trailed going into the third and final period. Kelechi Emeteole's Nigeria team can take two positives from their defeat: Gabriel Agu will go down in the record books as the tournament's first goalscorer, while 16-year-old Ifeanyi Onigbo underlined his potential with a double strike.
Portugal 5 - 4 Uruguay: Patience brings its
In a clash of footballing styles to savour, the typically slick Portuguese took to the sand to take on the always-competitive Uruguayans. The result? An enthralling encounter settled right at the death. The first period appeared to belong to the Lusitanians, until a stirring fightback from Venancio Ramos's men saw them turn the scoreline on its head. However, last year's beaten finalists refused to be ruffled, gradually cranking up the pressure until Madjer, Portugal's man for the big occasion, fired home the winner with just three minutes left. That said, if their performance today is anything to go by, then the Portuguese recipe for success will owe much more to perspiration than inspiration.
Italy 2 - 4 Bahrain: Adding substance to the
Prior to the tournament there had been a lot spoken about Bahrain's excellent performances during qualifying, and the team led by Brazilian coach Gustavo Zlocewick certainly lived up to the hype. Leaving their mark on the Copacabana with a deserved victory against a strong Italy side, the Asian champions' nerveless display did much to vindicate those who have backed them as the tournament's surprise package.
The defeat turned out to be a painful lesson for the Azzurri who, as coach Massimo Agostini would later admit, will have to perform much better should they harbour hopes of a place in the last eight. Over in the Bahrain camp, their astute coach raised a few eyebrows when he said, "If we can get off to a start like that after only discovering this sport a few months ago, who knows what could happen? We could be better than Brazil in two years' time." He may be jumping the gun slightly, but a place in the quarter-final stages is already that bit closer.
Solomon Islands 5 - 2 Cameroon: History in the
The Solomon Islands may have had to wait a long time before making their debut at the final phase of a FIFA competition, but the wait has not been in vain. Under the watchful eye of coach Eddie Omokirio, the Bilikiki Boys went toe-to-toe with fellow tournament new boys Cameroon in a frenetic encounter, showing nerves of steel to come away with an historic victory. The hero on an epic day for the Solomons was No.10 James Naka, scorer of all his side's five goals. In the best possible start to their stay in Rio, the win takes the Oceania champions straight to the top of Group C, ahead of European heavyweights Portugal. All of which means that the clash between the two teams, scheduled for the final round of group matches, is sure to be a cracker.