Uruguay out to upset hosts
In a few hours' time, the curtain will fall on the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 and the competition will have a new champion. Hoping it is their name on the trophy, hosts Brazil will be desperate to give their fans something to cheer about after being forced to settle for third place on the podium last year. Uruguay are certain to have other ideas, though, as they aim to see their epic adventure through to the end when the all-South American affair gets underway at 11am on Sunday.
Before that, of course, last year's finalists France and Portugal will be hoping to conclude their own campaigns on a high in the match for third place. Both encounters look destined to light up Copacabana Beach and provide a perfect ending to what has been a dazzling tournament.
France - Portugal (9:30, local time)
The match for third place is often an enigma at any international gathering, with the teams taking part torn between the disappointment of missing out on the main event and the desire to take home the consolation prize. It is the spectators who usually reap the benefits, though, as these matches always seem to be pulsating, open spectacles.
Sunday's instalment also has the added spice of reuniting the two sides who contested the Rio de Janeiro 2005 final, a game the French famously won on penalties. Portugal will no doubt be eager to avenge that defeat, but expect Eric Cantona's men to be highly motivated. Indeed, according to Jeremy Basquaise, they are already focused on bidding farewell to Brazil with a victory: "Our competition went so well that it would be a real shame to end on a sour note."
In the Portuguese camp, meanwhile, captain Hernani promises that his colleagues will be just as focused on the task at hand. "We don't want to leave Rio without getting a place on the podium," he said. "I can't imagine us ending the tournament with a defeat." With so much desire on both sides, it ought to be a match to remember!
Uruguay - Brazil (11:00)
Who could have predicted that Uruguay would be lining up on the sand for the Rio de Janeiro 2006 final when the competition first kicked off? Certainly not the Charruas themselves, as they readily admit. In fact, Diego and Co. had promised to sport radical, new hairstyles if they made it as far as the semis, and they kept their word by facing France with their locks dyed blond and red or cut short in the case of the team's more hirsute stars. Clearly, it did nothing to diminish their celebrated grinta.
Against hot favourites Brazil, though, they will need to raise their game even higher, but the idea of upsetting the hosts on their own turf has inspired memories of Uruguay's famous 2-1 victory at the Maracana in the final of the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
"It's impossible to compare the two games, but I can assure you this one is of enormous importance to my players," promised coach Venancio Ramos. "Brazil are the number one team in the world of beach soccer so we'll try and play the best match of our lives." His charges have previous experience of setting out to spoil the home side's party in the South American qualifiers this March, but were unable to stop the Auriverde coming away with a 6-4 group-stage win and a 9-2 triumph in the final.
Nobody in Brazil is taking anything for granted, however, with players and coaching staff alike stressing prudence as they prepare for Sunday's showdown. "We'll go into this match with maximum concentration," warned trainer Alexandre Soares, for example. "Nobody has ever won a game before it was played and we haven't reached our objective yet." Likewise, striker Sidney is making sure to keep his feet on the ground: "Even though the team deserve congratulations for getting this far, we need to beat Uruguay to really have something to celebrate."
The contrast in styles is certain to be acute, pitting as it does a Celeste team comfortable at the back and pragmatic going forward against an explosive Brazil side that has already netted 48 goals. All the pressure looks to be on the Selecao, though, with Ramos keen to point out that his men have already exceeded expectations. "For me, this final is the reward for all the hard work my players have put in," he said. "Since March, they have done nothing other than train, even in winter temperatures of two or three degrees. They deserve to win." The trap has clearly been laid - and only time will tell if Brazil can avoid it.