Six teams still hope to qualify for 2nd stage
Big Thursday in Murcia and Segovia where the first stage of the third FIFA Futsal World Championship concludes with a total of eight matches on 28 November. While Spain, Italy, Uruguay and, most probably, Brazil have already secured their ticket to Castellon where the second phase takes place, six other teams are still in contention for a place in the last eight.
In group A, hosts and European champions Spain are already through after beating Egypt and main rivals Ukraine in grand style. Coach Javier Lozano promised nonetheless to field his best players in the meaningless game against lacklustre Australia who conceded 19 goals in their first two matches. Ukraine, led by the skilful Oussakovsky twins, have to battle for the second place against Egypt and will seek to control Egypt's powerful pivot, Ismail Tamer, one of the outstanding players of the competition so far.
The first two places in Group B are still fiercely contested. The Netherlands, guided by goalkeeper Michel Wentzel, competing in his third World Championship, and playmaker Edwin Grunholz, played some fine attacking football capitalising on a series of bad errors in China's defence. Russia looked the more accomplished team than Argentina but could not force the victory they would have deserved. A win in tomorrow's encounter with China PR could still secure them their place in the last eight at the cost of either the Netherlands or Argentina.
Italy and newcomers Uruguay proved to be two of the dominant forces of indoor soccer at the global level. They had little trouble brushing aside Group C opponents Malaysia who obviously paid the price for their inexperience at this level. The US team lost to Uruguay as well as to the Italians despite a good spell before the end of the first half against Italy. This result effectively killed off the American hopes of making it past group C and into the second stage of the tournament. The inclusion of four players who had competed in the inaugural season of Major League Soccer, the top outdoor professional league in the US, did obviously not contribute to the build-up of a fine-tuned indoor team.
In Segovia-based Group D, title-holders Brazil are the only team bound to reach the last eight after two convincing performances. Iran - the surprise fourth-placed team in the 1992 finals and by far the strongest Asian representative - were beaten by Belgium, a major European futsal power, who successfully resisted the Iranians' superior skills. Iran's chances of qualifying for the second stage are virtually non-existent as Belgium are likely to seize their chance against Cuba. Brazil, on the other hand, will not underestimate their opponents and keep a sharp eye on Hashem Hidari, one of the leading goal-scorer of the competition. The winner of the group will most likely get the extra boost of avoiding Spain in the second stage.