In their opening game of this FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004, reigning world champions Spain successfully negotiated the tricky first hurdle set by Ukraine. The Spaniards took the driving seat courtesy of a near-perfect first-half display, before protecting their advantage to ensure an important victory against their toughest rivals in Group A.
Ukrainian coach Gennadiy Lisenchuk summed up the encounter in two sentences: "We made it difficult for ourselves with our first-half display. If we had played as well as we did after the break, I'm certain we could have matched Spain." A fair assessment, for while the Spanish showed that they are likely to have a big say in the trophy's final destination, their task was greatly facilitated by a poor first twenty minutes from the Ukrainians.
Right from the outset, the game ebbed and flowed to a distinctly flamenco rhythm. Well in control, Javier Lozano's charges moved the ball around admirably as they sought to create the best possible scoring positions. It was little surprise therefore when, after a few fruitless attempts, Marcelo opened the scoring (1-0, 5'). It was proving a little too easy against a Ukraine side who seemed almost in awe of their opponents.
It was not long before the Eastern Europeans had fallen further behind, Andreu the scorer this time (2-0, 9'). That second strike served as a belated wake-up call to Ukraine, who at last went on the attack, only to be thwarted by an in-form Luis Amado in the Spanish goal. For the remainder of the first half, the balance of play was evenly poised.
The keepers steal the show
After the break, the Spaniards retained possession well but the Ukrainian defence was alert to the threat. Well disciplined and tough in the tackle, Gennadiy Lisenchuk's protégés seemed capable of getting back into the game. Ploughing a lone furrow up front, young forward Sergiy Sytin worked his socks off trying to create clear-cut openings. Spain were in control but came close to conceding the goal that would have given their opponents a renewed foothold in the game.
Finally, the Iberians remembered that the best form of defence is attack, and Marcelo stung the hands of the Ukrainian goalkeeper (30'). The next five minutes became a mini-battle between the goalkeepers, as they sought to outdo each other with a string of top-class saves, one protecting his side's lead, the other keeping hope alive. In the end, however, the Ukrainian endeavours came to nought as the Spaniards kept their lead intact to win their first match of the tournament.
"This Ukrainian side is usually better than that first-half performance," declared Javier Lozano after the match. "I am happy with the way my players performed, especially during the first period when maybe we could have had two or three more goals. But we've just won what will definitely be our hardest first-round match, so I'm delighted." A key contributor to their victory, Spanish keeper Luis Amado saw the encounter in similar terms: "We had a very good first half but it's fair to say that I had much more to do in the second. Beating what is a very good Ukrainian side bodes well for the coming games."
When they play their second matches in two days time, both Spain and Ukraine will have quite different objectives in mind. For their game against Chinese Taipei, the world champions will no doubt rotate their squad, whilst in the other game in the group, a fascinating duel is in prospect between Ukraine, who now need a win, and Egypt, who showed skill in abundance today.