The competition may only be a day old, but the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 is about to hot up dramatically. At the top of the bill, hosts Brazil kick off their campaign against Jacek Ziober's up-and-coming Poland team, who finished third in this year's European League, while many eyes are also sure to fall on the defending champions' first outing. Attempting to defend their world title, France make their entrance in what is sure to be a hard-fought contest against recently-crowned European champions Spain.
Group A: USA - Japan ( 09:40 , local time)
Two sides that experienced radically different fortunes in Rio last year kick off the day's festivities on Copacabana beach. Knocked out after two defeats - including a 3-2 loss to tomorrow's opponents - the North American side had to watch from the sidelines as Japan stunned everyone with their third-place finish at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2005, but they are determined to leave more of a mark at the second attempt. "I hope we can play a bigger role this year," declared star performer Francis Farberoff. "Either way, we want to get our revenge on Japan." In the opposition camp, coach Hiroyuki Torikai knows expectations will be high, but insists his team are ready to meet the challenge. Whatever happens, the loser of this match will face an uphill task to earn a place in the quarter-finals.
Group A: Brazil - Poland ( 11:00 )
There ought to be as much excitement in the stands as there is on the sand as the hosts begin their assault on the world title, and the locals will be hoping to see their heroes get started with victory over this year's surprise-package in the European qualifiers. Floundering in the 'second division' at the start of the season, Jacek Ziober's men nonetheless booked their ticket by taking the old continent's third berth and are unlikely to fear anyone. "Poland are a great new force in the discipline," admitted Brazil coach Alexandre Soares. "Their defence is excellent and their players are very good finishers, so we'll have to be very careful." Third in last year's competition, expect the Auriverde to be an even more fearsome proposition after making several changes to their line-up.
Group B: Canada - Iran ( 12:20 )
Unknown quantities at this level, these two hopefuls are destined to serve up a feast of intriguing football. That said, this match should be more useful as a guide to what lies in store for Group B favourites Spain and France later in the tournament. More immediately, though, both sides will be desperate to prove they merit their place in Rio after securing the last qualifying berth on their respective continents.
Group B: Spain - France ( 13:40 )
Friday's headline clash sees reigning champions France return to the scene of their momentous exploits last year. They are in for the toughest of starts this time around, though, up against the Spain team that lifted the European crown back in August. "Everyone is saying we're not at our best anymore, but I can assure you my team will give 100 per cent to defend their title," countered Les Bleus boss Eric Cantona. Despite his protestations, France do appear to be a notch below their opponents, yet who would have bet on a French victory in 2005? The real question is whether they can raise their game again this year, but one thing is certain: with Nico, Amarelle, Didier Samoun and Jair Cardoso in action, the entertainment will be of the highest quality.