World Champions under pressure; crunch time for Ukraine and Argentina
The stakes are high going into the last matchday of the second round at the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004. World champions Spain meet neighbours Portugal needing a win to guarantee a semi-final berth, and the clash between Ukraine and Argentina in Group F is another sudden-death affair. Victory is a must for the East Europeans but the South Americans only need a draw to progress. The Czech Republic play for pride while opponents Italy are looking to seal top spot in Group E. Finally, rampant Brazil are out to dazzle the crowd against the USA. FIFA.com previews the final group matches.
Brazil v USA: Samba party in prospect
After defeating "a boring Argentine team," Brazil boss Ferretti promised a dazzling display of futsal fireworks against the USA. "We have the right music for every dance. It was a boring dance against Argentina, but it will be salsa or samba against the USA," the upbeat Brazil coach beamed. However, he sounded a note of caution: "Our first priority is to win, but if we can do that and turn on the style as well, so much the better." Brazil go into the match already through to the semi-finals after victories over Ukraine and Argentina. US coach Keith Tozer insisted his men were not about to become cannon-fodder for the Brazilians. His players came into the tournament with limited futsal experience but they have steadily improved in the past two weeks. "We have a great deal of respect for Brazil, we know what they can do. But we'll put body and soul into the job." The South Americans won a mid-September double-header at Campo Grande in Brazil 7-3 and 9-2, but Tozer waved aside those ominous statistics: "You'll never realise any kind of dream if you don't set your sights high."
Referees: Massimo Cumbo (ITA), Yaya Djiba (SEN), Vladimir Maso Goitisolo (CUB), Kazuya Isokawa (JPN)
Ukraine v Argentina: Exit looms for losers
Both sides have identical second-round records, so a nerve-wracking winner-takes-all shoot-out is in prospect. Both beat the USA and lost to Brazil, and the similarities do not end there, reckons Argentina boss Fernando Larrañanga: "We both use a similar system. We're quicker getting forward than Ukraine, although they have more pace on the ball." Larrañanga predicted a tight outcome against solid and battle-hardened opponents. "I think we face an exceptionally tough task," he declared. Opposite number Gennadiy Lisenchuk was delighted following a 3-1 victory over the USA. "That was a vital win against extremely tough opponents." The Ukraine supremo remained tight-lipped as to his tactics for the showdown match. "It's vital we control the pace of the game," was all he would say. Lisenchuk will be paying close attention to accuracy in front of goal in the remaining training sessions as Ukraine squandered a raft of openings against the Americans. One thing is certain: the Argentine defence will be a tough nut to crack and for Ukraine to progress, they must make the most of the few chances that are likely to come their way.
Referees: Sadreddin Seyed Moosavi (IRN), Adel Al-Shatti (KUW), Pedro Galan (ESP), Robert Porritt (AUS)
Spain v Portugal: World champions under pressure
World champions Spain looked unbeatable after winning four on the trot with an outstanding record of 21 goals for and none against. But a 3-2 defeat to European champions Italy has dramatically altered the picture and Javier Lozano's men are under intense pressure before meeting neighbours Portugal. The Spaniards must win to be certain of a place in the semi-finals, otherwise events in the other match could shatter their ambitions. "It's going to be a very tough match for us, just like a final," Lozano observed. "Alongside Brazil, Argentina, Italy and ourselves, Portugal are one of the five teams who could win this World Championship. It's a very evenly-matched tournament. Little things could end up deciding who lifts the trophy." However, Lozano believed his men were up for the job: "We were unlucky against Italy. Now we'll see what we're really made of." Portugal's going-in position is easier to assess following a draw against Italy and victory over the Czech Republic. "We know a draw would be enough," coach Orlando Duarte remarked. "But there's no way we'll play for a draw, because we want to avoid Brazil in the semi-finals. If it does end in a draw, fair enough, but it's not the result we're looking for."
Referees: Karoly Torok (HUN), Mohamed Ibrahim Farag (EGY), Carlos Del Cid (GUA), John Konstantinidis (USA)
Czech Republic v Italy: European champions target top spot
Defeats to Spain and Portugal mean the Czech Republic cannot qualify for the last four, but coach Michal Striz' men are still using the rest day to recharge their batteries, ready to exit the tournament on a high note. "It's now all a matter of pride. We'll give it everything we've got one last time and make life difficult for the Italians," Striz observed, offering a positive summary of the event: "All my players are amateurs. It's been extremely tough playing matches on consecutive days. But I'm totally satisfied with my squad." Italy will aim for as large a margin of victory as possible to guarantee top spot in Group E and thereby avoid Brazil in the semi-finals. Commented coach Alessandro Nuccorini: "This is not a new situation for Italy. I always thought we wouldn't know the final group standings until the end of the last match."
Referees: Nestor Valiente (PAR), Jyrki Filppu (FIN), Nolido Paixao (BRA), Juan Carlos Sciancalepore (ARG)