Chinese Taipei feature in the opening match of the fifth FIFA Futsal World Championship at 4pm local time on Sunday 21 November. The hosts face a tough challenge right from the start, meeting African number one Egypt before taking on the might of reigning world champions Spain. The holders will have their work cut out too as they seek to kick off the campaign with a win against Ukraine. The teams in Group C also play their opening fixtures, with joint favourites Italy coming up against the USA, before an intriguing duel between dark horses Japan and Paraguay. FIFA.com previews the first four matches.
Spain v Ukraine: Cracking highlight on day one
"All good things come in threes," Spain will be hoping before meeting Ukraine. At the world event in 1996, the Spanish hosts defeated Ukraine 4-1 on two occasions, and now coach Javier Lozano's men will seek a perfect start to the tournament with a third victory. However, their opponents arrive at the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004 with lofty ambitions and are many experts' outside bet for the title. The opening fixture is likely to decide the Group A table toppers as both teams will be favourites in their remaining matches against Chinese Taipei and Egypt. Spain have hit a rich vein of form in the build-up to the tournament, recording a comfortable 7-0 victory over the USA in a warm-up match three days ago. Lozano will have taken pleasure at his side's solid work at the back, as the attack-minded side's only real fault is an occasional lapse in defensive concentration. "We made the right decision to come here early and arrive on the 16th. We're ready for the World Championship," the coach declared. "It'll be a tough match, as we start against Ukraine and they're extremely strong. One or two of my players might suffer from nerves, but the Ukrainians will have the same problem." However, the East Europeans appeared a great deal more relaxed than the Iberian side in training as the 2000 world champions sense the pressure before embarking on their title defence. Ukraine coach Gennadiy Lysenchuk insisted he was optimistic despite missing two of his most important men: "The absence of Oleksandr Kondratiuk and Vladimir Deinega is a major blow. It's a real shame they weren't able to make the trip because they're both key personalities. But we have excellent team spirit, so we're still hoping to make an impression." The Ukrainian game plan involves exploiting errors as clinically and as often as possible.
Chinese Taipei v Egypt: Tough opener for hosts
Hosts Chinese Taipei face a forlorn-looking task against all three group opponents, starting with African champions Egypt. "I watched our opponents at Guatemala 2000 and obviously it will be an exceptionally tough game for us," Belgian coach Damien Knabben observed. "I was impressed by their speed and technique." Anything other than defeat against the African nation would rate as a stunning success for the young, inexperienced Chinese Taipei outfit, mainly composed of school pupils and students. Nonetheless, the hosts are looking to gain valuable experience against strong international opposition, and will try and pitch the Africans a curve ball or two with the exuberance and determination characterising the youngest team in the tournament. Egypt rounded off their preparations for the campaign with a 9-0 thrashing of England.
Italy v USA: Favourites looking for focus
The teams meet for the third time at a world championship. The USA recorded a 4-1 victory in 1989 at the first tournament in the Netherlands, but the Italians took revenge in 1996, winning 4-2 at the Spain finals. Commented Italy coach Alessandro Nuccorini: "It's a genuinely tough match for us as the USA are probably the strongest team physically. We have huge respect for them. They might be a little better prepared as they've been here for longer." In an evenly-matched group every fixture could have a decisive influence, the Italian coach acknowledged, "but the opener is always that little bit more important, because it tells you where you stand and if you're going in the right direction." Nuccorini admitted his team could be better prepared: "I think we may have come here a little too late. One or two of my players can't sleep, so it's proving tough getting all the players to the same physical level." Total concentration in the opening match could be a problem for another reason, as minds and hearts will inevitably be drawn to the fate of physiotherapist Giuliano Pierobon, admitted to hospital after collapsing in his hotel room. "We were all a bit shocked, but it should be OK again by Sunday," the coach hoped. For their part, the Americans declared respect for their opponents. "They have some of the world's best players," US star Jamar Beasley remarked. "We'll just go out there and try and do our best." Determined not to leave anything to chance, the Americans have studied their opponents on video in advance.
Japan v Paraguay: Asia giants brimming with confidence
Japan go into their opening match against Paraguay riding a wave of confidence after a surprise but thoroughly convincing 3-1 warm-up victory over Argentina, one of the hot favourites for the tournament. Trainer Sapo is optimistic his men can make a positive start to the campaign, but he stressed the quality of the opposition. "There are huge similarities between Paraguay and Argentina, simply because they're both from South America. But personally I think Paraguay are a shade quicker. We'll get out the video and have another very close look at it." Japan are without one of their most important players, Takaaki Ichihara. "This is a really bad setback for us as he's immensely important both as a player and personality. But it makes us even more determined," the coach declared. Japanese Association President Saburo Kawabuchi echoed the trainer's optimism: "I think we can make the second round. We've improved dramatically in defence. I'm really looking forward to this world championship."