Russia have got off to a flying start at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008. In their opening game against Cuba, Oleg Ivanov's charges proved with a convincing 10-5 victory that they are one of the teams to watch out for at this year's tournament.
Ivanov, though, is uncomfortable with any talk about Russia being among the favourites to claim the coveted trophy. "There's no doubt that Brazil are not only the favourites in Group A but for the whole tournament. They are also the hosts which makes them even stronger," Ivanov told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
Despite the win, Russia did indeed show some frailties in defence against the Central Americans, who failed to capitalise fully thanks to their own careless finishing. An excellent performance by Russia keeper Sergey Zuev also helped to thwart the CONCACAF team.
Ivanov is aware that Russia could pay a heavy price for such laxity in defence against a Brazil team who are on a roll after resounding victories against Japan (12-1) and the Solomon Islands (21-0). "We made too many mistakes in the second half against Cuba. We really have to tighten up in the defensive department," Ivanov told FIFA.com.
Russia and Brazil have met twice before at FIFA Futsal World Cups (Guatamela 2000 and Spain 1996), with the Auriverde emerging victorious with 6-2 wins on both occasions. "It will be a difficult game. The Brazilians will be giving it everything in front of their home crowd, and we'll have to work really hard if we want to stop them," explained Ivanov.
The match against the Auriverde will have a special significance for two players in the Russian team. Although midfielder Pula and striker Sirilo both play for the same Russian club, Dinamo Yamal Moskau, the duo were actually born in Brazil. "I'm already preparing myself mentally for the game against Brazil as I didn't play well against Cuba. As a team, we have to be focused going into the game. If we show the same slackness that we did against Cuba, Brazil will punish us," warned Pula, who scored twice against the Caribbean islanders.
A sea of yellow will confront Russia on Saturday, as thousands of Seleção fans crowd into the Nilson Nelson Arena to spur on the tournament host's. How Russia cope with the pressure will be decisive in deciding the outcome of the group as the victor will have every chance to go on and take the first place-spot. As an added incentive, the section winner would most likely avoid other futsal heavyweights like world champions Spain or runner's up Italy in the second group-phase matches.
Have Your Say
Can Russia spring a surprise against a rampant Brazil team, or will the South American goal machine (33 strikes in two games) prove unstoppable?
Follow the matches from the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2008 live on FIFA.com, either via the EMIRATES Live MatchCast or with live TV images. After the final whistle, you can also enjoy highlights of all the matches.