Brazil continue dominance and retain title
Brazil underlined their pre-eminence in the world of futsal last week by winning, for the second year running, the Grand Prix event organised by the Brazilian Futsal Confederation. In the final, the hosts saw off the challenge of Italy with a 5-3 extra-time win after regulation time had failed to separate the sides (2-2). Croatia took the last place on the podium after prevailing against Argentina in the match for third place.
Unlike the inaugural edition in 2005, which consisted of only CONMEBOL sides, this year's tournament featured three countries from South America and another three from Europe. Group A was made up of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, while Italy were joined by Croatia and the Czech Republic in Group B. Using a mini-league format, the top two sides from each group advanced to the semi-finals. All the games were played at the SESI Arena in the southern Brazilian city of Caxias do Sul.
Despite a dramatic and closely-fought final, Brazil were by far the best side at the Grand Prix, something graphically illustrated by the competition's stats. They were the most potent team in attack (20 goals), boasted the event's top-scorers in Falcao (seven) and Valdin (six), and also had the meanest defence (conceding just four) - the latter earning Tiago the award for the tournament's best goalkeeper. In fact, the only prize that eluded the hosts was the Fair Play award, which went to neighbours Argentina.
The Brazilian hierarchy
Brazil's path to the final was smooth to say the least, with not even traditional rivals Argentina capable of troubling them as they fell to a 2-0 defeat at the group stage. However, the decider against world runners-up Italy was another matter, with the Selecao caught cold and forced to come from 2-0 behind. "It was a tough game, although we always knew it would be. Fortunately, we were able to turn things round," explained Brazil's winger and pivot Valdin. "We were at fault for both of Italy's goals but kept our composure and battled back to win the title, which was very important for Brazilian futsal," added Tiago.
The Azzurri grabbed a two-goal lead with strikes from Adriano Foglia and Nando Grana before Valdin got Paulo Cesar de Oliveira's men back into contention with a brace that sent the match into extra-time. This time Brazil would make no mistake. A goal from Leco and another two from Falcao put the result beyond doubt, with the late riposte from Italy's Eduardo Morgado proving a mere consolation.
"Losing to Brazil when playing in their back yard and enduring extra-time is not unusual," said Italy's goalkeeper Alexandre Feller. "This result only reinforces the fact that Brazil are still the best side in the world. I mean we ourselves only fielded Brazilian-born players," Feller added, referring to the decision of Azzurri coach Alessandro Nuccorini to include 14 naturalised Italians of Brazilian origin in his 15-man squad.
Croatia secured third place on the podium, although not before battling for over an hour with an obdurate Argentina side. The fact that the match had to be decided on penalties was down in no small measure to superb performances by the respective keepers, Ivo Jukic and Jose Mandayo. After sealing victory, the delighted Croatia coach Mico Martic said: "Brazil and Italy are a cut above the rest of us, which means we won the battle of the rest. This is a significant achievement, above all for the lessons we've learned and the experience we've gained for the future."