Déjà vu as Europeans meet in South American sunshine
Was it only a week ago the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2005 began? Sunday sees the final of the tournament and the surprise is that the hosts Brazil won't be there. Beaten on penalties in a thriller by Portugal, they will contest the 3rd/4th play-off with Asian surprise package Japan. Ze Miguel's men will then take on Eric Cantona's consistent French team for the title.
Japan v Brazil (9.30am local time)
Few expected Brazil to be playing this early in the day - and even fewer expected Japan to be playing today at all. The Japanese have been one of the biggest stories of this tournament, after their victory over USA and their astonishing comeback against Uruguay. 3-0 down, they turned the game on its head in the last five frantic minutes to win 4-3, and in the process made Nippon fans of the Brazilian capacity crowd. The sight of one whole stand of shirtless Brazilian fans chanting Kato's name after the semi-final was one of the tournament's great moments.
The semi-final against France was a game too far for a team who have majored on team-spirit and effort, although Japan's charismatic coach Ramos wants a big finish: "My team is very, very tired. At the beginning of the World Cup, I predicted that France and Portugal would be the best teams so I'm not surprised to be playing Brazil. It will be really hard for us but as always, we will fight till the end. If my players think we will lose, I would prefer to go back home now. But I'm sure that we can finish in 3rd place."
"We gave Beach Soccer to the world and the other teams are evolving the game," Brazil coach Indio said after the semi-final. "All the teams are improving and they are getting closer to each other. We have seen what Japan can do throughout the tournament and we know it will be a tough game."
France v Portugal (11am)
Two European teams will contest the final - just as they did in 2000. Then the keeper for Portugal was instrumental in their victory - today he's the coach. If Ze Miguel likes omens, he will remember that his side beat Brazil in the semi-finals that year too. Trying to stop history repeating itself will be French coach Eric Cantona, who has been a picture of serenity all week. His French team must have helped his stress levels - winning through to the final after four patient, untroubled performances.
Cantona knows things will be more difficult on Sunday. "We know Madjer well, we know he is a wonderful player. He's very skilful and can also defend well. He's also a leader of the Portuguese team. It's hard to know how to defend against him because he's so unpredictable. However we will not focus just on Madjer because the whole Portuguese team is great, but we have beaten them recently and we believe we can do it again."
The impressive Ze Miguel can't wait for the final: "The heat was an issue against Brazil when we played at 11am, and it may be on Sunday too. But this is a World Cup final so we are really looking forward to the game."