Quarter-finals in sight for Brazil and France
For everyone involved, the fourth day of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 is shaping up to be a day of contrasting emotions. While the winners of Friday's clashes eye a place in the next round, the losers from day two already find themselves in deep water, struggling manfully to stay afloat. Leading by example are defending champions France and host nation Brazil, emphatic victors in their opening matches and with a golden opportunity to book their place in the quarter-finals with a game to spare. However, the heavily-backed pair must face two other sides who also kicked off their campaigns by taking all three points, with Canada and Japan determined to strike a blow for the underdogs here in Rio de Janeiro. Spain, for their part, have their backs to their wall even at this early stage and desperately need a win to stay in the hunt.
Group B: France - Canada ( 09:40 , local time)
On the back of a season that has seen defending champions France struggle to regain their 2005 title-winning form, few would have tipped Eric Cantona's men to record a convincing win over reigning European champs Spain. Throwing the form book out of the window, Les Bleus answered their critics in impressive style and are just one win away from a quarter-final berth. Barring their path in the day's early-morning kick-off are tournament new boys Canada, who defeated opening-game opponents Iran on penalties. "We've taken one big step forward and now we've got the chance to take another," explained Cantona, fully aware that topping the group should ensure his charges avoid Brazil in the next phase. "These days you can't pick up any easy wins, all the teams have taken their preparation extremely seriously and each game is tougher than the one before." Their Canuck opponents, coached by Rosario Ongaro and captained by Sipho Sibiya, will be hoping to prove him right.
Group A: Brazil - Japan ( 11:00 , local time)
With a guaranteed place in the last eight up for grabs, Sunday's big clash between the host nation and one of the tournament's surprise packages has all the makings of a classic. Both teams got their bid to qualify from Group A off to a perfect start with comprehensive opening-game successes, and whoever wins this match will be odds-on to take top spot. Alex Soares's Auriverde put Poland to the sword with a swashbuckling display and are sure to enjoy the unconditional support of thousands of fans packing the Copacabana stadium. Up against them will be Hiroyuki Torikai's Japan, who earned a host of admirers after their powerful performance against the United States. Rest assured however, the Japanese can expect no affection from the home fans should they complicate matters for the mighty Selecao. "Brazil are the tournament favourites, but why can't we dream (of beating them)?" wondered the Japanese coach, while his opposite number in the Brazil camp warned that "there are no easy teams nowadays".
Group A: Poland - USA ( 12:20 , local time)
Having been on the receiving end of heavy defeats in their opening Group A ties, both teams know that another reverse would all but end their chances of making the knockout stages. With three vital points at stake, it is win or bust for Poland and the USA. "We knew that we could afford to lose the Brazil game, but now we need to win our remaining fixtures if we wish to progress. The first step is the match against the United States," explained Jaceck Ziober, coach of the Eastern Europeans. For the USA, coach Roberto Ceciliano is seeking a reaction from his side after the Japan debacle: "It's absolutely crucial that we rediscover the form we showed in qualifying. If we can do that then we have a great chance of coming away with the win."
Group B: Iran - Spain ( 13:40 , local time)
Having started off on the wrong foot with defeat to neighbours France, European champions Spain know that nothing less than a win will do in their second Group B game against Iran. With the Iranians themselves in desperate need of points after their penalty shoot-out defeat against Canada, coach Joaquin Alonso knows his Seleccion cannot afford another slip-up: "It was incredibly annoying to lose like that against an opponent we know inside-out. We've got no margin for error now. The time has come to steady the ship and get back to winning ways." Although conscious of the gulf in class between the two sides, Iran's player-coach and skipper Farshad Falahatzadeh refuses to throw in the towel: "We're lacking a bit of experience in this sport, but we more than make up for it in enthusiasm. We'll be giving everything we've got because we're still in with a chance of qualifying." Should they wish to keep their dreams of beach soccer glory alive, defeat is simply not an option.