Italy and Spain through to qualifying show-down
There is a confident feeling among Rio residents that the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup will be won by the favourites Brazil. Certainly tonight's aperitif went the way of the fancied teams as Italy and Spain booked their place in Saturday's play-off with 4-1 and 7-4 victories respectively. With the 12th and last place in the competition proper up for grabs, both teams did enough to secure their passage into what looks a fascinating match.
Played under jet black skies in the specially erected stadium on Copacabana beach, there was palpable tension in the air as Italy and Austria took to the sand. It wasn't winner takes all - that will be tomorrow, but for the loser it would be a long trip for 36 minutes of action.
Italy head coach Massimo Agostini started with a quintet of Scalabrelli, Galli, Casarsa, Pasquali and Fruzzetti while Saurer, Trauner, Oberhammer, Kondert and Brandstetter took the field for the dogged Austrians. Determination alone, however, would not be enough against an Italian side with enough quality to see them through.
After a slow, cagey first period with very few chances, the diminutive Italian Galli broke the deadlock two minutes after the first break. It stayed that way until the last period when Austria began to press forward leaving gaps at the back which Caronetudo, Pasquali and Forte exploited to give the scoreline a comfortable feel. Austria had brought the game back to 2-1 through Trauner but they never looked like seriously troubling their opponents.
Italian coach Agostini said afterwards: "We knew that it will be difficult for us as we didn't have a lot of time to prepare ourselves. I was expecting us to score more goals. My main hope now is that our opponents will be a bit more tired than us. Tomorrow will be a different match, but my players know what they have to do to qualify. And qualifying is why we came here."
Spain's 7-4 victory sounds closer than it was. Starting with Robert, Nico, Samu, David and the outstanding Amarelle, coach Joaquin Alonso's men were almost imperious in this game although three late Swiss strikes lent the scoreline some respectability. Two goals from David, one from Nico, and four from Man of the Match Amarelle had put Spain into a 7-1 lead before consolations from Meier, Davor and Baumi made it 7-4. Spain showed an impressive combination of individual flair and collective team-work to suggest they could still have a major part to play in this tournament - if they can see off the stubborn Italians.
After the match Alonso was confident about his side's chances: "The first period was tight as Switzerland was really well prepared. But after going ahead, we showed we were superior to them. Tomorrow, we will face a different team, with much more experience. But if we play the same way, we will qualify."
So Italy and Spain meet in the qualifying final after both enjoying victories by three goal margins. Italy will need to improve creatively while Spain might need to be a little tighter at the back. It's all to play for as the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup draws ever closer.