There are few places on the planet where passions for the game of futsal run as deep as in Brazil. For that very reason, when the sixth edition of the FIFA Futsal World Cup kicks off this Tuesday, the entire host nation will be behind their Seleção. The Auriverde certainly have a point to prove. Having won the first three editions of the showpiece competition, they have exited at the hands of eventual winners Spain at the last two events - in 2000 and 2004. But rest assured, the Furia Roja have touched down on Brazilian soil determined to hold onto their world crown and their status as futsal's top dogs.
"I'm dreaming of a Brazil-Spain final," said Spain's Javi Rodriguez, who is set to take part in his fourth FIFA Futsal World Cup with La Selección. Equally forthright was the man widely regarded as the world's best futsal player, Brazil legend Falcao: "If we need to play ugly football in all nine games in order to win the cup then that's what we'll do." And FIFA.com users were also keen not to be left out of the pre-tournament word jousting, with podeston, from the birthplace of futsal Uruguay, having this to say: "I'm sorry to have to tell you all this, but the champions are going to be Uruguay."
As the opening whistle fast approaches, the uncertainties surrounding the competition continue to increase. Can Italy or Argentina, runners-up and fourth respectively in 2004, break Spain and Brazil's stranglehold on the coveted trophy? Will 2008 be the year Russia, Ukraine, Iran and Egypt make the definitive breakthrough? Will another, less-favoured side, emerge from the shadows to spring a surprise? The answers to these questions and more should not be long in arriving.
The FIFA Futsal World Cup is the fourth longest-running competition on the current FIFA calendar, after the FIFA World Cup, the FIFA U-20 World Cup and the FIFA U-17 World Cup. After being hosted twice on European soil (Netherlands 1989 and Spain 1996), twice in Asia (Hong Kong 1992 and Chinese Taipei 2004) and once in Central America (Guatemala 2000), Brazil 2008 will be the first time the elite event will be held in South America.
It will also be the first edition of the tournament to be contested by 20 national sides instead of 16, and will include a total of 56 matches to be played in the two host cities of Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia.
The competition format is straightforward enough. The 20 participating teams will be divided into four groups of five (Groups A-D) for the first round, to be played in a round-robin format. The top two in each group progress to the second round, where the eight remaining teams will be split into two groups of four (Groups E and F), also to be played in a round-robin format. The winners of Groups E and F will progress to the semi-finals, where they will meet the runners-up of Groups F and E respectively. May the best team win!