Brazil back on top as trio advance

By defeating hosts Uruguay 4-2 in the final of the Copa America last Saturday, Brazil sailed through their latest test ahead of this year's FIFA Futsal World Cup on home soil. Victory enabled the Canarinha to regain the continental title lost four years ago to Argentina, who completed the podium here with a 3-2 win over Paraguay in the match for third place.

By reaching the semi-finals, the Charrúas, Albicelestes and Guaraníes ensured they would join hosts Brazil in flying the flag for the CONMEBOL at the latest edition of the sport's showpiece event, to be held between 30 September and 19 October next in the cities of Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro.

Auriverde dominate
Paulo Cesar de Oliveira's side were ruthlessly efficient in their march to the title, winning all five of their games, scoring 46 goals and conceding just six. On top of that they picked up the award for Fair Play and two individual accolades: the tournament's most-valued player, which went to Schumacher, and the top-scorer award, which the latter shared with team-mate Falcao courtesy of eight goals apiece.

"This generation of players are bent on winning back all the titles the team previously held, and the Copa America was one of those. However, I believe the World Cup will be our biggest challenge and the most important championship in the history of Brazilian futsal," said Falcao after the final on Saturday.

Brazil's record since De Oliveira took up the coaching reins has been hugely impressive. His side have recorded 106 wins, one draw and a solitary defeat (against Argentina at the Copa America in 2004) in 108 games, and are currently on a run of 80 successive victories. "The stats prove that we're working well, but what matters most is winning the World Cup," added the striker who won the Player of the Tournament at Chinese Taipei 2004.

Mission accomplished
Runners-up and hosts Uruguay also had a memorable tournament, their only two defeats coming at the hands of the champions. "Reaching the final was our second goal - the first being to secure our qualification for the World Cup - and we're satisfied that we've achieved both," said goalkeeper Roibal. The Charrúas have further reason for optimism after their up-and-coming striker Blenkleider was voted best emerging player at the championship.

Argentina, for their part, also achieved their primary objective of a berth at Brazil 2008, even if they could not repeat their title-winning heroics of four years earlier and in the end had to settle for third. Their coach Sergio Lopez will also have been encouraged by their wealth of attacking options, with no fewer than eight of his players sharing out the team's ten goals. Their leading marksmen in Uruguay were Hernan Garcias and Maximiliano Rescia with two strikes apiece. Furthermore, they suffered just one defeat, a 5-2 reverse to Brazil in the semis, and can take consolation from the fact that no other side at the Copa managed to restrict the free-scoring champions to such a small margin of victory.

Paraguay, meanwhile, qualified for their fourth FIFA Futsal World Cup thanks in no small part to their front men, who made the Guaraníes the second-highest scorers at the championship after Brazil (with almost four goals per game). "We worked together very well, and those of us based overseas quickly slotted into the team. Fortunately, we can now start thinking about the World Cup," said Carlos Chilavert, a key member of the Albirrojos who plies his trade with Napoli in Italy.