Four candidates, two places
© Foto-net

The Maracanazinho in Rio de Janeiro provides the setting for Thursday's semi-finals at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008. First up are the tournament hosts and Russia, with Spain and Italy following them onto the court. Setting the scene as usual is FIFA.com.

Brazil-Russia, 10.30 (local time)
The two sides met in the opening phase but with a place in Sunday's final up for grabs, the stakes are much higher this time around. Russian confidence was dented by the 7-0 hammering they received in that first meeting, although Oleg Ivanov's men quickly recovered their poise to advance to the business end of the tournament.

Once again the Auriverde are the clear favourites. While their opponents will be hoping that leads to complacency, the yellow and green machine has kept its focus in every outing to date. History is also on their side. As well as that 7-0 group win, they also beat the Russians 6-2 at Spain 1996 and again at Guatemala 2000.

The key
The Russian defence. Both teams have already demonstrated their potency in front of goal, but only Brazil have been able to combine flawless finishing with defensive solidity, shutting out the eastern Europeans when the two met in the first phase. If the Russians try to match the hosts blow for blow, they could well pay for it.

Players to watch
Schumacher and Sirilo are the go-to men in both sides, the gifted schemers their team-mates will look to during key phases. If fully fit, the Russian playmaker could play a decisive role. The duel between adidas Golden Ball candidates Pula and Falcao, with 15 and 11 goals to their name respectively, should also prove absorbing.

The stat
117 - The number of goals Russia and Brazil have scored between them, 59 and 58 respectively, almost 34 per cent of the 369 goals scored in the tournament so far.

What they said
"We played badly the first time we faced Brazil, but now we're going to show some real Russian spirit and give them a battle." Russia player Konstantin Dushkevich.

Italy-Spain, 12:30 (local time)
Spain seem to have the edge in terms of form and morale going into the game, having racked up six straight wins to qualify for the semis with a match in hand. The Italians have already tasted defeat twice and needed a last-minute goal against Iran to sneak into the last four. But just as in any derby, there are no favourites in this clash.

With both teams so well acquainted with each other, it will be no surprise to see another tight, combative duel on Thursday. La Furia Roja edged home 3-1 when they met in the UEFA Futsal Championship final last year, and the two duels between the European adversaries at Chinese Taipei 2004 ended with honours even, Italy winning 3-2 in the group phase and Spain gaining revenge with a 2-1 victory in the final.

The key
The details. Both sides are known for their tactical astuteness and the match could well hinge on the slightest loss of concentration or merest flash of brilliance. Keeping mistakes to a minimum and knowing when to gamble will be vital.

Players to watch
Javi Rodriguez and Sandro Zanetti have the necessary experience for the big occasion. While the Spanish linchpin has shown the better form so far, there is no question the Italian has what it takes to make the difference.

The stat
34 - The number of matches Spain have won in the history of the competition. The Spanish are second only to Brazil, who have 40 wins, while Italy stand third with 17.

What they said
"Spain will be tough rivals and they're the favourites too. But we know we can match them and that's just what we'll do." Italy goalkeeper Alexandre Feller.