After coming off the rails in the semi-finals of the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004 against a Spain side about to be crowned champions for the second successive time, the Brazilians immediately started planning for 2008. At that point, they were unaware that they would clinch the bronze medal and that their country would be hosting the fifth edition of futsal's showpiece event four years later. But one fact stared them in the face: after another defeat at the hands of the Furia Roja, the Auriverdes needed to change in order to rediscover their former glories.
It is against this backdrop that the Brazilians' latest title success last weekend must be viewed. Courtesy of a 4-0 win over Iran in the final of the Grand Prix, they recorded a third success at this international tournament organised by the Brazilian Futsal Confederation (CBFS).
Since its inauguration in 2005, when only CONMEBOL teams took part, this event held exclusively in the city of Santa Caterina has gradually gained in prestige. The 2006 tournament was contested by three teams apiece from South America and Europe. This year, a grand total of 16 sides from five different confederations (only the OFC was not represented) were involved, and the final was attended by 8,500 spectators. The final place on the podium was claimed by Argentina after their 5-4 victory over Hungary in extra time.
As widely predicted, the Verdeamarelhos made a clean sweep on the pitch and in the statistics: six wins in six games, the most prolific strike force with 53 goals and the meanest defence with only six goals conceded. Just like last year, the team's superstar Falcao finished as top scorer with nine goals, with his side even picking up the Fair Play award along the way.
"There's no doubt that this competition should be valued," Falcao said. "We started off with easy matches, but then gradually faced tougher and tougher opponents. We had to beat them and fortunately we succeeded in that regard. Even losing one match would have been tantamount to disaster and brought enormous repercussions."
This title is the sixth garnered by Brazil since Paulo Cesar Oliveira began his tenure as coach in June 2005. Under his stewardship, the Seleçao have won 72 of their 74 games, their solitary defeat, a 1-0 reverse to Spain, occurring almost two years ago. A 1-1 draw with Portugal followed in October 2006, but since then the Verdeamarelhos have strung together an unbelievable sequence of 46 consecutive wins.
Paulo Cesar, however, prefers not to dwell on the statistics. "At the moment, we're trying out as many players as possible," the tactician declared after this latest title success. "We're lucky enough to have an exceptional pool at our disposal, but they are short on experience. Ideally, we want to have several options open when picking the squad. When the time comes, we'll call up the best."
Iran on the up, Argentina take bronze
Iran's path to the final was nothing short of extraordinary and confirmed their status as Asia's leading futsal nation. Despite a defeat against Slovenia, they finished top of Group B courtesy of wins over Paraguay and Uzbekistan. But the best was yet to come, as Hossein Shams' protégés proceeded to overpower Uruguay and Argentina in turn, before eventually coming unstuck against the host nation in the final.
"I must pay tribute to my players. We've drawn some important conclusions with a view to the challenges we'll be facing over the coming months," explained the Iranian technician after the final. The Iranians relied principally on the twin threat of Kazem Mohamadi (joint-second top scorer with 7 goals) and Ahmad Pariazar (four goals).
The tournament also proved to be a positive experience for Argentinian coach Fernando Larranaga, whose astute blend of youth and experience yielded a creditable third-place finish. Despite the severe disappointment of the semi-final loss to Iran, the Albicelestes were able to pick themselves up to see off Hungary and claim the last place on the podium.
"We have a young squad which has succeeded in its aim of playing high-quality futsal. We will always be ready to respond to a call-up to the squad, as it's our job," declared the pivot Gustavo Vaporaki, scorer of four goals against Hungary and six in the tournament as a whole. Also worthy of note were the fine displays of their No 1 Santiago Elias, the goalkeeper with the tournament's second-best defensive record, and the pivot Martín Amas (six goals).
Other pleasant memories include the firepower of the Magyar marvel Tamas Lodi (four goals against Argentina and six overall), along with the impressive showing of Belgium (fifth) and Slovenia (sixth), while the main disappointments were provided by Paraguay, third at the 2007 Pan-American Games. The big question? Will Uruguay be able to put things right in time for Brazil 2008?
Group A: Brazil 9 points, Belgium 6, Mozambique 3, Canada 0
Group B: Iran 6 points, Slovenia 5, Uzbekistan 4, Paraguay 1
Group C: Argentina 6 points, Egypt 3, Chile 0 *
Group D: Hungary 7, Uruguay 4, Netherlands 3, Angola 1
*Peru were disqualified after playing one match