Futsal showdown in Guatemala

The CONCACAF qualifiers for this year's FIFA Futsal World Cup in Brazil get underway this week with in Guatemala.

Eight teams are participating in the six-day tournament from 3 to 8 June at the Domo Polideportivo in Guatemala City. It will be the first time the Central American country and hosts of the 2000 FIFA Futsal World Cup have staged a regional Futsal competition since 1996.

Group A pits the host Guatemalans against rising regional powers Cuba, Mexico and reigning Caribbean champions Trinidad and Tobago. Group B will be led by current CONCACAF Futsal champions the United States and also includes Costa Rica, Panama and Haiti.

The Chapines of Guatemala will have their work cut out in their Group. Cuba have finished third in all three previous CONCACAF Futsal championships and head to the 2008 event loaded with scoring punch and speedy options on the floor. Mexico, though giants in the conventional eleven-a-side discipline, will be looking to get into their first Futsal world finals while Cuba have been steadily improving of late. Trinidad and Tobago, who recently hosted and won the 2008 Caribbean championship in Macoya, are also likely to cause a few problems.

The United States will be the hot favourites in Group B. Twice champions in the North, Central American and Caribbean zone, the side is led by long-time coach Keith Tozer and have some strong options in veteran players like John Ball and Jamar Beasley, younger brother of US international DaMarcus. The Americans will not have things all their way, though, up against Central American powers Costa Rica, who won the regional title in 2000 as well as up-and-comers Panama and Haiti.

The top two finishers from each group will progress to the semi-finals on Friday afternoon. The two finalists will join the third-place finisher at the world finals in September and October in Brazil.

The three contenders from North, Central America and the Caribbean will join already qualified sides Thailand, Iran, China PR and Japan, who all qualified via the Asian zone. From Europe, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, Italy and the Czech Republic will take part, while Egypt and Libya will represent the African continent.

The Oceania and South American representatives at the Brazil 2008 will be known later this month.