THE DAY REPLAYED - For the first time since the start of this
year's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, fans and
players alike were able to enjoy a full day of uninterrupted
sunshine. The upturn in weather also coincided with a decisive day
out on the pitch as the final round of matches in Groups C and D
drew to a nail-biting climax. As the dust settles on the
Copacabana, the identities of five of the eight quarter-finalists
are now known.
Portugal and Uruguay both made it safely through to the last eight, although in contrasting style, where they will be joined by tournament surprise packages Bahrain. Bidding farewell to the competition are African representatives Nigeria and Cameroon, while 6 November also turned out to be a sad day for the Solomon Islands, who failed to build on their opening-game win and also head home.
Bahrain 5-5 Nigeria (4-3 PEN): Welcome back Omar!
Having been denied the services of striker Abdulla Omar in the first two group games, the forward jetting home for family reasons prior to his side's opener with Italy, Bahrain coach Gustavo Zlocewick was delighted to welcome his star man back for the final group game against Nigeria. The Asian champions' No.2, a professional player for the Muhraq club back in Bahrain, arrived back in Brazil just in time to help his side qualify for the next round in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. Their opponents, the Super Eagles, had been on the verge of another last-gasp success to follow their late fightback against Italy on Saturday, only for the game to slip from their grasp in the decisive shoot-out. Cue emotional scenes on the sand of the Copacabana beach as the Asian side hoisted Zlocewick onto their shoulders for a lap of honour, and threw their shirts into the crowd. A stark contrast to the Nigerian camp, who left the playing area with dejection clearly etched on their faces. For the winners however, there will be no time for extended celebrations. Up next are the mighty Portugal, runners-up last year and in imperious form this time around. Not that coach Zlocewick is overly concerned. "They don't worry me, I've coached them (Portugal) before and they know that I know all about them," he warned. "I bet that they don't want to play against us. Now we've got our sights set on going even further."
Cameroon 3-3 Uruguay (1-0 PEN): Bittersweet defeat
Mixed feelings were the order of the day for Uruguay coach Venancio Ramos as he watched his side lose out on penalty kicks to African side Cameroon. Despite their second defeat in three games the South Americans still managed to book a quarter-final berth after finishing second in Group C. Their opponents were not so fortunate, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon missing out on the next round despite ending their campaign on a winning note. Joseph Bell's charges have improved with every game, although the same cannot be said of an Uruguay line-up struggling desperately to recover their form from qualifying. "We know that we can perform much better than this, but at the end of the day I'm happy to have made it through," explained a relieved Ramos after the game. Up next in a classic quarter-final encounter are neighbours Argentina, winners of Group D.
Italy 1-3 Argentina: contrasting emotions
With the fates of both sides already decided before this game, Group D bottom side Italy looked to salvage some pride against an Argentine line-up safely assured of a place in the last eight. True to form, the Albiceleste strode to their third group win, the goals that guaranteed a maximum nine points from three games coming via a brace from Federico Andrade and yet another Santiago Lopez Hilaire strike. The Azzurri, who had been among the pre-tournament favourites, must now head for home without a single point to show for their efforts. "I'm the one who must take the lion's share of responsibility for this performance," admitted Italy coach Massimo Agostini, before adding: "I'm hoping to be able to start afresh as of tomorrow and begin planning for the future with a whole host of changes." The focus in the Argentine camp must now turn to their quarter-final clash - a familiar derby against neighbours Uruguay. "We know each other really well, we've got similar styles. It's going to be a very tightly contested and evenly matched game. We desperately want to reach the last-four, and we'll be going all out to achieve our goal," warned Argentina coach Francisco Petrasso.
Solomon Islands 2-14 Portugal: Madjer and Co. march
In the day's final game, the Solomon Islands kicked off needing a win against the in-form Portuguese to stand a chance of making it through to the next round. With the odds heavily stacked against them from the start, the Bilikiki Boys were powerless to stop their European opponents cruising to the biggest score of the tournament thus far. Madjer and Alan were in inspired form as the Lusitanians put on a masterclass of beach soccer, combining back-heels, overhead kicks, and scissor-kicks to dazzling effect. After three wins in three games, the team coached by Ze Miguel were rewarded for topping Group C with a quarter-final showdown against tournament dark horses Bahrain. No easy task, as forward Belchior explains: "They're new to the sport, but they have a great coach who knows all about the game (of beach soccer). But if we want to become world champions then we need to beat them and keep taking things one game at a time."