THE DAY REPLAYED - With numerous personalities from the
worlds of football and beach soccer in attendance, the last four
teams at Rio de Janeiro 2006 settled the important business of who
will contest Sunday's final. Former FIFA President Joao
Havelange, Spain coach Joaquin Alonso and Switzerland trainer
Angelo Schirinzi will all have been enthralled as two tense
semi-finals resulted in celebrations for the South American
The closest tie of the day saw Uruguay cause yet another upset by dumping world champions France out of the competition on penalties. Few could have predicted the Celeste going so far, but they will be full of belief as they prepare to take on a Brazil team that had the local crowds fearing the worst early on. After allowing Portugal to build an early lead, though, the Auriverde stepped up a gear in the last two periods to leave themselves within sight of the trophy.
France 2-2 (0-1 pens) Uruguay :
Les Bleus relinquish title
Had France known beforehand they would not be able to repeat their success of last year, to a man they would surely have chosen a less heartbreaking way to be eliminated. Like Raymond Domenech's men in the Germany 2006 final, however, Les Bleus saw their dreams come crashing to a halt in an agonising penalty shoot-out loss.
"It's a huge disappointment," explained a visibly shaken Laurent Castro after the result. "What makes it even more frustrating is that the Uruguayans made no attempt to go forward, with three men behind the ball and only one striker. Unfortunately, there will always be teams who play like that and it worked for them. If we had gone in with the same attitude, no doubt the result would have been different. All I can say is well done to them, but it hurts."
As in their first four encounters, Uruguay built their success on a straightforward but highly effective approach. Relying on numbers in defence, Venancio Ramos's men - who all changed their hairstyles for the match - waited for France to come at them, hoping to catch them on the break. As a result, Les Bleus constantly found themselves chasing the game.
They perhaps lacked a little efficiency up front too, with Jeremy Basquaise adding: "We tried everything but the ball didn't seem to want to go in the net. We just lacked that little something extra which made the difference for us in our earlier matches. This loss is going to leave a bitter taste in the mouth." For their part, the Charruas are planning to celebrate all day before turning their attentions to the final this evening.
Brazil 7-4 Portugal : Hosts spurred on by local
For much of this entertaining semi-final, the Portuguese believed themselves on the verge of shocking the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup hosts for a second time in two years. Unlike the Brazil team that had to settle for third place last time around, though, this current line-up have vast depths of mental strength.
Losing 4-2 at the end of the first period, Alexandre Soares's men turned the game on its head in scintillating fashion to clinch a berth in the final and leave the home fans drooling. "All of a sudden we lost our concentration by worrying too much about the referee," commented Madjer afterwards. True or not, the Selecao were given immeasurable help by the boisterous locals and ultimately ended the tie three goals clear.
"Portugal know us inside out and that's undoubtedly why they were able to take the lead so early," offered Soares after the game's conclusion. "I always believed we would win it, and our substitutions made the difference. In beach soccer, it's always the third period that decides the outcome and that's the moment we chose to raise our game."
Thanks to this result, the hosts have met the first target they set themselves as the tournament got underway: vengeance for their defeat last year and a place in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 grand finale. Of course, no one remembers the runners-up, as they say, and Brazil are not about to rest on their laurels. As Buru explained: "It's going to be the match of our lives."