If you are an aficionado of the beautiful game, some magnificent images are sure to flicker through your mind when you think of Brazil v France encounters over the years. Fabulous FIFA World Cup™ matches at Sweden 1958, Mexico 1986 and France 1998 are just a few such examples.

Try the same experiment again in a few weeks time, and the list will probably have been lengthened by the addition of the semi-final of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2007. In this year's tournament, fate has decreed that the only two sides to have already lifted the trophy meet at the penultimate stage.

The presence of the French and Brazilians in the last four hardly ranks as a surprise, as they have both reached at least that stage in the previous two competitions. And in both cases, whichever side has won its semi-final has gone on to clinch the tournament proper. At the inaugural edition in 2005, France disposed of Japan before completing their path to glory, while the following year, the Seleçao made up for the indignity of having let the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup evade their grasp on home soil by overcoming Portugal in the semi-final before triumphing over Uruguay in the final.

Practically unstoppable
These two world champion sides have several things in common, the most striking of which is a statistic; 0, i.e. the number of defeats suffered by the sides in normal or extra time during three consecutive tournaments. The only match the Brazilians have lost was the semi-final with Portugal in Rio on spot kicks in 2005.

LesBleus, meanwhile, have suffered the bitter blow of defeat on penalties twice: in the semi-final of the 2006 tournament against the Celeste and at the hands of Nigeria a matter of days ago in the group stage. Despite a combined total of 30 World Cup matches, the two beach soccer behemoths have never met, but it was only a matter of time.

After all, when you collect silverware as often as these two, your paths are sure to cross sooner or later. "We won the World Cup in 2005 without meeting Brazil," laments Didier Samoun, scorer of a hat-trick against the UAE. "Now we have a chance to beat them and claim an even more glorious title if we then go all the way."

Buru: 'Concentration will be paramount'
The thousands of spectators at the Copacabana Beach Soccer Arena will not be entertaining that prospect of course, and are sure to do their utmost to roar on their favourites, but Samoun is undaunted: "That doesn't worry us," hey says. "In fact, it's precisely the kind of atmosphere that inspires us."

A look at the record books reveals that out of the previous three meetings between South American and European sides, the latter have lost out twice. The bad news for the local fans is that the sole South American loser of these duels were Brazil themselves, beaten by Portugal in 2005.

But stats like these do not bother the title-holders, who will once again be counting on the dazzling form of star man Buru to overcome the French resistance. "Sure I'm very happy to be one of the top scorers at the tournament," declares the man himself, " but it's not my main objective. What matters is improving our defensive strategy and not letting our guard down. We've been making too many errors so far, so keeping our concentration will be paramount in the coming matches."

Cantona hopeful
In the French camp, they are focusing on a key strategic element. "This will be a very tough game but we're going to try to close them down them as much as possible," explains Les Bleus' coach Eric Cantona. "They've got a fantastic side and if you sit back and let them play, they'll murder you.

I'm really excited at the prospect of meeting them. Last year, they hardly had a hard game all the way to the final, but it's been different this year, right from the start of the tournament. As a result, I don't think they'll be in better physical shape than us."

While it is true that the Brazilians have had some tough matches thus far, they have been in free-scoring form nonetheless. The quarter-final against Portugal that they won 10-7 is the highest-scoring match in the history of the competition. Moreover, it was the sixth time the Auriverdes have reached the 10-goal mark!The European Championship runners-up may not be able to boast such prolific statistics, but they do have a solid and experienced squad to rely on.

Apart from Jean Saidou, all the outfield players have already netted at least once in a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup match. Since the start of the tournament, only Jairzinho Cardoso is still keeping Saidou company in the list of French players yet to get off the mark, but his two previous goals suggest even he might find the back of the net again before too long.
And what better time than now?

He and his team-mates have a chance to shine in a semi-final against the great Brazil. Then, just 24 hours later, the winner could well become the first country to lift the trophy on two separate occasions.