So near to the prize
The floodlights have come down from the stadium. There is no need for them now as the final four matches of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005 will be played in the morning. By midday local time on Saturday we will know Sunday's finalists after two fascinating semi-finals.
France v Japan (9.30am local time)
Not many outside the bubbly Japan camp gave them too much hope against USA in their Group B game. Even fewer rated their chances against Uruguay in the quarter-finals. But they won both games, displaying a rock-solid team-spirit which is a credit to Brazilian born, naturalized Japanese coach Ramos Rui. Their win over the South Americans was the performance of the tournament - 3-0 down with only five minutes left, they reeled in a Uruguay team which came apart at the seams to win 4-3.
But this France team will raise the bar even higher. They have probably been the tournament's most consistent side so far, never looking in any danger against Australia, Argentina or Spain. Even so, Eric Cantona knows he's in for a game: "We should not think that it's going to be an easy match for us. Of course Japan is not Brazil or Portugal, but we saw in the tournament that they can do very well. We don't really know them well so we will have to be very wary." His sentiments have been impressed on his team as Anthony Mendy says: "As the coach always tells us, we can't underestimate any of our opponents. We are going to approach this game with the commitment we have shown for all our matches."
By the end of their quarter-final the never-say-die attitude of the Japanese had made Nippon fans of the watching Cariocas. It was a short step for the locals to oppose a South American rival, but the home support will again be for the Asians. Expect a raucous early semi-final which, if Rui's team can pull off a third shock will see the roof lifted. He knows France pose the stiffest test yet. "It's going be a really tough match for us. My team is really tired as we already had three very difficult matches and we're not used to playing on this kind of sand," Rui said after the quarter-final. "I can't say what's going to happen but I know that my team will fight till the end. We're not afraid, even of Brazil. We can beat anybody. Of course we don't have the same level as Brazil, France or Portugal but we have our mental strength - our determination."
Brazil v Portugal (11am)
26 games, 24 wins. Brazil's beach soccer record against Portugal makes for ominous reading, but Zé Miguel's men will take real heart from one of the two games they have won. In 2001 they beat the Auriverde at this stage of the competition before beating France in the final. This remains the only blemish on the host's record in Beach Soccer World Championships and how Madjer, Alan and co would love to repeat that sequence over the weekend.
The elegant Portuguese No 7 is the tournament's leading scorer with seven goals, though no one could accuse Lady Luck of having any part in proceedings. Madjer is one of the few players whose technique would sit easily in the Brazilian squad. Perhaps only his team-mate Alan and Spain's Amarelle could boast this among the tournament's other players.
But they will have to overcome a Brazil side who appeared to be gelling in the quarter-final against Argentina. Romario has a specific aim: "I want to wake up on Monday and say I am a World Champion in two different sports." He is confident, as befits a FIFA World Cup winner, but coach Indio is more cautious, "Portugal are a very experienced team - one we respect very much. But the sport started on Copacabana and we want to give a great spectacle to the public. Most of all we want to win." Portugal's players were out on the beach on Friday practising penalties - perhaps they are expecting a long morning…