Indoor specialists kick-off on Sunday
The world's best indoor footballers begin their third FIFA Futsal World Championship in Spain on Sunday, with fifteen teams aiming to prevent Brazil from completing three world titles in a row.
The Brazilians have won the two Futsal World Championships to date, in Holland in January 1989 and in Hong Kong in November 1992. Both titles were hard won, and this time the pressure will be even greater on the title-holders to retain the crystal glass trophy.
The host nation, Spain, will be leading the challenge. While Brazil play in a tough Group D in Segovia (together with Belgium, Cuba and the surprise fourth-placed team in the 1992 finals, Iran), Spain are more widely fancied to qualify from Group A in Murcia with Egypt, Australia and Ukraine.
Spain's matches are expected to draw capacity crowds to the 7,000-seater Palacio de Deportes in Murcia, with fans hoping the home team can build on its success in the European qualifying championship earlier this year, when they beat Russia 5-3 in the final in Cordoba.
Russia again feature free-scoring Konstantin Eremenko, who hit 15 goals in three games in the 1992 finals. They play in Group B, also in Murcia, together with the experienced Dutch and a Chinese team whose 12-man squad all come from the same Shen Hua club.
Group C in Segovia features the USA, silver-medallists in 1992, whose ranks include three players from the new Major League Soccer (MLS): Frank Klopas and Sean Bowers from Kansas City Wizards, and Oscar Draguicevich from San Jose Clash. Also in the American squad is the veteran Jim Gabarra, whose wife Karin (formerly Jennings) has already won a world champion's medal for the family as a star of the US team in the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup. Also in Group C are Italy, Uruguay and Malaysia who, like Ukraine, are appearing in a FIFA competition for the first time ever.
The top two teams of each group progress to the second round, played in two four-team groups in Castellon from Saturday 30 November to Wednesday 4 December, while the semi-finals and finals are in Barcelona's 14,500-seater Palau Sant Jordi on Friday 6 and Saturday 8 December.