The fifth FIFA Futsal World Championship in Chinese Taipei opened in the best Asian tradition as a cast of 50 children performed to a backdrop of drums and cymbals in a memorable ceremony that launched the event in style.
The opening scenes depicted a tableau of swordsmanship and the arts of battle as a precursor to the second act, a blend of reality and fiction centred on a dance featuring the 'Warriors of the Holy Fire', the most colourful and spectacular part of the ceremony. Finally, the crowd at NTU, one of the two tournament venues, watched entranced as the flags of all 16 participating nations were unfurled to the strains of the Village People's smash hit "YMCA" performed by the brass section of the Jingmei Girls' School in Taipei. It was then time for the moment the world of futsal has been anticipating for four years.
In the presence of the teams from Australia, Thailand and the Czech Republic, Chinese Taipei Association President Huang Shi-Cheng, FIFA President Joseph S Blatter, President of Chinese Taipei Chen Shui-Bian and Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-Jiou officially launched the tournament which runs until 5 December. The stage was set for the opening match between the hosts and African champions Egypt.
Hosts learn painful lesson
As expected, Chinese Taipei battled bravely but despite noisy support from the home crowd, were overpowered by the strength of their opponents. Chinese Taipei managed to hold their own in the very early stages but the Egyptians made the breakthrough after seven minutes as Gehad Sayed comfortably finished off a three-man move started from a free-kick. Egypt settled and the hosts found themselves in trouble against the Africans' pacy and technically adept passing game. The score had already reached double figures when Sayed applied the finishing touches with a fine free-kick from the ten-metre spot to round off a 12-0 victory. Chinese Taipei boss Damien Knabben remained upbeat afterwards: "We're here to learn, after all." Egypt coach Mohamed Aly offered words of comfort: "I hope Chinese Taipei manage to improve as the tournament goes on, but it was obvious we're playing at a higher level."
World champions forced to work hard
Goals by Marcelo and Andreu within the first 10 minutes proved enough for world champions Spain to register a 2-0 victory over Ukraine. The Ukrainians took too long to settle in the face of the Spaniards' expert zonal system, an exemplary demonstration of tactical discipline which saw the East Europeans totally shut out for the first 20 minutes. Ukraine shifted up a gear in the second period and forced Spain onto the defensive, although the Southern Europeans always looked dangerous on the break. Both goalkeepers, Luis Amado for the holders and Olexiy Popov of Ukraine, pulled off world-class saves in a pair of outstanding performances. Ukraine coach Gennadiy Lisenchuk made no attempt to hide his disappointment afterwards: "If we'd played as well in the first half as we did in the second, we could have seen a totally different result today." Understandably, his opposite number Javier Lozano was pleased with what he saw in the first half. "We could have scored two or three more," he observed, nonetheless delighted with "a perfect start" against the toughest group opponents. "I'm extremely satisfied with my players," he concluded.
Italy live up to role as favourites
Italy top the world rankings but took their time coming to terms with the United States. The Americans took the lead after a cagey opening, but as the game progressed, the South Europeans' tactical nous slowly but surely got the better of their opponents' robust, physical game. Italy eased into the lead but the U.S. equalised after the interval, only for Grana and Foglia to point one of the tournament favourites towards victory. US keeper Scott Hileman was sacrificed for a fifth outfield player in the closing stages but even that gamble could not prevent a 6-3 defeat. Italy coach Alessandro Nuccorini was a happy man afterwards: "I'm very pleased we won because the USA have a really strong team physically." American boss Keith Tozer was optimistic as he looked ahead to the next match: "I'm entirely satisfied with the way we went about the job today. It could have ended up very differently if we'd taken our chances. I'm confident for Tuesday."
Paraguay edge thriller against Japan
The second Group C match of the day provided tension and drama galore as a thrilling, passionate encounter ended with Paraguay edging a 5-4 victory over Japan. The South Americans created a string of chances in the first period but were let down by wayward shooting, in stark contrast to the Asian outfit who clinically seized what was on offer. Kenichiro Kogure opened the scoring on seven minutes for the first of nine goals in a classic encounter between two evenly-matched teams. Paraguay upped the tempo after the break and coach Adolfo Ruiz' men were eventually rewarded, although the situation looked bleak when Kogure struck his second to hand Japan a 4-3 lead. However, Walter Villalba and Oscar Velazquez nabbed the goals which saw Paraguay turn the match on its head. Despite his satisfaction, Ruiz sounded an immediate note of caution: "Obviously we're more confident than ever after this, but we mustn't read too much into one match and nothing's decided yet."