Euro big guns head-to-head
© Foto-net

Thursday’s second semi-final at the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2008 pairs world champions Spain with Italy, the side the Iberians beat to claim the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2004 and the European Futsal championship in 2007. The long-running and deep rivalry between the sides came to a climax in the two major finals, with the Spanish holding the upper hand on both occasions, 2-1 in Chinese Taipei four years ago, and 3-1 in the continental showdown last November. Ahead of the latest titanic all-European clash, FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the teams’ goalkeepers.

Learning from past mistakes
"It was incredibly hard work. We were outstanding in the first half against Iran, but we started making mistakes and conceded goals from set plays, which isn’t normal for us. We’re learning with every match, and we won’t be making the same mistakes again in the semi against Spain," Italy keeper Alexandre Feller predicted.

But the Spanish have also been analysing their past performances, and have concluded that the best is yet to come, if shot-stopper Luis Amado is to be believed. "The team’s taking a step forward with every game. We’re getting better all the time. I think the draw with Iran in our first match was a wake-up call. We’re still undefeated, and we’re ready for the semi-final," declared Amado, who was rested for the final group match against Paraguay.

Brazil on the horizon
The goalkeeping twosome say they cannot wait for the shuddering European showdown in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. "It’ll be a tricky task. Spain are joint favourites with Brazil, and they’ve won the trophy twice before. It’s always hard against Spain, but we know we’re capable of matching them. We respect them," the 38-year-old Italian keeper confided to FIFA.com.

Luis Amado took a different view, rejecting the notion that he and his team-mates were odds-on to reach the Final: "There are no favourites at a World Cup. Italy, Russia, Brazil and Spain deserve to be in the last four. These are four strong teams, but unfortunately, only two can survive the semi-finals." However, that did not stop the 1.86m star thinking ahead to a date in the Final. "If we get past Italy, I’d rather play the Russians. Brazil have home advantage on their side, which would make it that much more difficult," the player reflected.

His Italy counterpart regards the FIFA Futsal World Cup hosts as clear favourites for the trophy: "If we’re talking about the title, Brazil are favourites, especially because they’re in front of their home crowd. But we’re concentrating on Spain. We’ll worry about Brazil once we’ve won our next match."

Mutual respect
Great mutual respect characterised the remarks made by both men, never more so than when talking about each other. "Feller is a superb goalkeeper, one of the best in the world. Even though he’s been around for ages, he’s at the peak of his game right now," the Spaniard said of the Italian.

Feller expressed similar praise for Amado’s ability, although he never took his eyes off the prize of a place in the Final. "We’ve stood opposite each other in some great matches, he on the one side, and me on the other. It’ll be difficult because he’s a great goalkeeper, the best in the world. But we’ll put our personal duel to one side, do our jobs, and I’m hoping for a happy end for us this time," Feller declared.

Following Thursday’s clash, one of the keepers will be resigned to the match for third place, while the other will be looking ahead to the FIFA Futsal World Cup final. Until then, Alexandre Feller and Luis Amado are focusing on the latest instalment in the greatest of all European rivalries, the Italians desperate to shake off their tag as perennial runners-up, the Spaniards seeking to retain the chance of a third successive world title.