Canada prevail in clash of the new boys
It was a day of firsts in Group B of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 as tournament debutants Canada and Iran played out a 12-goal thriller before the North Americans pocketed the points in the first penalty shoot-out of the competition.
Once the dust had settled, Canada coach Rosario Ongaro was quick to point to the historic nature of his team's success. "Canada had never won a game before at a World Cup finals, and that makes this win all the more special for us," he declared. "If we can win our next match, we're through. We didn't expect this but we're absolutely delighted. Nonetheless, we need to raise our game defensively and cut out the silly mistakes."
Both sides had already had chances to take an early lead when Mohammad Ahmadzadeh opened Iran's account with just one minute on the clock, much to the delight of a small but vociferous band of Iranian supporters. The Canadian response was not long in coming as the imposing Sibila Sipho drove his team forward. The number 10 was in inspired mood and gave his side the lead after Ian Diaz, one of the Canucks' top two scorers in the CONCACAF qualifiers, had cancelled out Ahmadzadeh's opener.
All their good work was undone in the second period, however, as the hard-running Iranians pulled away thanks to some clinical finishing. By the time the buzzer for the second interval had sounded, Farshad Falahatzadeh's high-flying charges had established a 5-3 lead courtesy of some well-taken goals.
And yet, as the nail-biting final period illustrated to perfection, nothing is decided in Beach Soccer until the final whistle blows. Unsettled by Abbas Hashempour's dismissal for a second yellow card, the Asian challengers allowed the Canadians to roar back into contention, with Sibiya taking his tally for the afternoon to four goals. Despite his heroics, though, the Iranians were still in the ascendancy as the clock ticked down, only for Kyle Yamada to make it 6-6 with an opportunistic strike just seven seconds from time.
And with that went Iran's chances of victory. Sibiya's confident spot-kick in the resulting shoot-out was followed by Ahmadzadeh's miss, as the points went to the Canadians. The rousing ovation from the stands at least offered the plucky losers some consolation.
Even in the wake of an agonising defeat, coach Falahatzadeh refused to be downhearted: "We faced a lot of problems in even making it here, particularly in getting a team together," he explained. "A few guys dropped out at the last minute, and a lot of the team have had to face the pressure of competing in their first major international match outside Asia. We can still get through, though, and we're not out of it by any means," he added defiantly.
Referees: Joao Almeida (BRA), Fabio Polito (ITA), Francisco Sarmiento (ESP)