With the start of FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008 just a week away, the excitement continues to build with the 20 competing nations announcing their squads today for the showpiece event. And judging by the calibre of the players heading to Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, another exceptional feast of futsal is practically guaranteed.
Defending champions Spain will be hoping for more of the same this year and will be staying with a successful formula based on a solid and even squad. Their natural leader is again Javi Rodriguez, who picked up the adidas Silver Ball at Chinese Taipei 2004 and who will be playing in his fourth finals. Spain's combination of experience, as epitomised by goalkeeper Luis Amado and defender Kike (both playing in their third finals), and sheer quality, in the form of pivot Marcelo (adidas Bronze Shoe in 2004) and wide man Andreu, make the Iberians strong candidates to take the title again this year.
Brazil, by contrast, boast a whole host of star names who have gelled to form an exceptional team. Leading the way, of course, is Falcao, the attacking wide man who cemented his reputation as the world's top player four years ago, when he picked up both the adidas Golden Ball and Golden Shoe despite his side only finishing third. And while his principal ally will be the defender Schumacher (adidas Silver Ball and Bronze Shoe at Guatemala 2000), no one can deny the star quality brought to the Seleção by fellow wide player Vinicius, pivot Lenisio and goalkeeper Franklin.
There are many other big names hoping for star turns at Brazil 2008. Italy, who confounded the experts to take silver in Chinese Taipei, can call on the likes of Alexandre Feller, Sandro Zanetti, Edgar Bertoni and Adriano Foglia, most of whom formed the backbone of the side of four years ago. It is a similar story with Argentina, fourth in 2004, with Carlos Sanchez, Diego Giustozzi, Hernan Garcias and Fernando Wilhelm reprising their usual roles for the Albiceleste as they aim to go one better.
Other players who could also make a splash are Portugal's Ricardinho (only just turned 23), Egypt's Gehad Sayed (11 goals between the last two editions), the Czech Republic pair Michal Mares (5 goals in 2004) and David Fric, the USA's Jamar Beasley, Ukraine's Il'Dar Makayev and Iran's Vahid Shamsaee (playing at his third finals). Though numerous others also deserve a mention, the time for talking and predicting is over. With the action just days away, we will soon know which of these stars thrives in the heat of battle and delivers on the world stage. Let the action begin!
For the complete lists, click on the ‘Squad list' tab in the corresponding team page, or download them in a PDF file from the column on the right.