Goals galore as favourites show their mettle
THE DAY REPLAYED - For those football fans lucky enough to
catch the action played out on the sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro,
3 November 2006 will live long in the memory. The second day of
this year's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup saw the net bulge a
staggering 46 times in just four matches, the players no doubt
inspired by the thousands of supporters filling the stands ready to
cheer on host nation Brazil.
The Auriverde fans did not have things all their own way, however, with a number of Iranian flags clearly visible among the swathes of yellow and green. Thrown into the multicultural melting pot that only football can provide, Poland enjoyed a helping hand from above with the presence of two beach-soccer loving nuns, proudly decked out in red and white.
Out on the pitch, Brazil and France soon set about showing why they are amongst the favourites to come away with the coveted trophy, while Japan earned a host of admirers with an emphatic win over the USA. It came down to Canada to salvage some CONCACAF pride, the North Americans keeping their nerve against Iran to win the tournament's first penalty shoot-out. On the downside, today's games also saw the first two red cards of this year's competition.
United States 4 - 8 Japan: Japanese restore damaged pride
Having had their pride badly wounded by their second-place finish in the Asian qualifying tournament, Japan took to the sands of the Copacabana doubly determined to match a classy opening-day win by continental counterparts Bahrain. Cheered on by the raucous Brazilian fans waiting to see their beloved Verdeamarelos take on Poland, the Japanese underlined their potential with a comprehensive victory against CONCACAF champions the United States. The USA's brave display was not enough to stop the rampant Japanese, for whom Katsuhiro Yoshi scored one of the goals of the tournament so far, arrowing a shot into the top corner of Luis Montanes' net from inside his own half. As the applause died down, the home fans must have been hoping Yoshi does not repeat the feat against the Far Eastern side's next opponents, Brazil. For the record, the USA's Raphael Xexeo was the first man to see red at this year's showpiece event.
Brazil 9 - 2 Poland: Samba stars off to a flyer
As the stands of the Copacabana stadium shook with the sound of more than 6,000 expectant fans, Alex Soares's Brazil side knew that nothing less than a win would do. Inspired by the evergreen talents of 41-year-old Junior Negao, the Canarinhos took the awestruck Poles apart with a display punctuated with flashes of real brilliance. Despite the support of two nuns way up in the stands, Poland were left needing more than a touch of divine inspiration as the Brazilians danced their way to the biggest win of the tournament so far. Nevertheless, coach Jaceck Ziober was philosophical in defeat: "We expected to lose this match, but there's still all to play for in the next two games." The home side, for their part, can rest easy knowing that it would take a footballing disaster to deny them a place in the next round.
Canada 6 - 6 Iran (1-0 PEN): Cool Canucks make
Not only was Canada's penalty shoot-out success over Iran the first of its kind so far this tournament, but the game also signalled the North American side's first-ever FIFA World Cup win. The match, which kicked off Group B here in Rio, had everything: 12 goals, a sending-off, and a result which hung in the balance until the very end. Unfortunately for the Iranians, who touched down in Brazil with a squad of just ten players, the game went away from them with the very last kick of an enthralling encounter, leaving Japan and Bahrain as Asia's star pupils. Their opponents meanwhile can now set their sights on a place in the last eight. "Anything is possible," claimed coach Rosario Ongaro, and after seeing his team in action, it would be foolish to disagree.
Spain 4 - 7 France: Mark of a champion
Plagued by poor form since their win at last year's competition, Eric Cantona's French side have been the subject of intense media speculation in the build up to Rio de Janeiro 2006, especially since needing a play-off to qualify for this year's event. Not that the former Manchester United star was worried: "Now, when it counts, we'll be at 100 per cent." Prophetic words given today's evidence, which saw Les Bleus begin their title defence in some style. The holders were made to fight hard for the three points by European champions Spain, who took the early initiative through the genius of forward Amarelle. The Spanish No10 was in typically scintillating form, going on to score from a spectacular overhead kick which drew a hearty round of applause from the admiring Brazilian fans. Having been second-best during the first period, the French rolled up their sleeves and dragged themselves back into the match. Much credit must go to Didier Samoun, whose silky skills played a decisive role in settling a classic clash between two top sides. "I don't know if we're going to retain our title, but we're on the right path," said a delighted Cantona after the game.