Mexico-Uruguay, the keepers' tale
It's no picnic being a beach soccer keeper. Everything moves so fast in front of you, the sand can be a treacherous companion and shots seem to rain in with ever-increasing speed. For any team with designs on glory then, a safe pair of hands between the posts is a prerequisite, as the Mexico and Uruguay squads will tell you. Chances are the duo would not be gearing up for a semi-final at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2007 on Saturday were it not for the exploits of their two No1s.
The voice of experience
For Diego Alberto Monserrat Pastorino, or Diego as he is more conveniently known on his No 1 jersey, the elation at seeing off Nigeria in Thursday's quarter-final has yet to wear off. "That's the best we've played as we managed to control each period," the 35-year-old tells FIFA.com. "We had to knock them off their rhythm as they are a very strong side and managed to do that. Our experience told in the end."
Against the Africans the Celeste rediscovered the defensive solidity that took them to last year's final. "We didn't get off to a good start because we always have trouble arranging friendlies before the World Cup. We've picked up momentum as the tournament has gone on, though," he adds.
The Uruguayans have conceded fewer goals than any of the other semi-finalists, although the smiling Charrúa captain is reluctant to take the credit for that . "Ha! We've all got our egos, but that's something for you to decide. I just do what I can and if the team wins and plays well, then so much the better."
Yet when the discussion turns to opponents Mexico the smile disappears from Diego's face. "They might be short on experience but they're one of the sides who has progressed most since the qualifiers. They've got two or three very fine players but it's their commitment and teamwork that stand out. They fight right to the end, as they showed against Russia and Brazil."
The assured custodian will be happy with the narrowest of victories come Saturday afternoon but knows the scale of the task awaiting his side. "The sport is getting bigger all the time. New teams keep coming through and the established sides are preparing themselves even more thoroughly. Reaching the final once is hard enough, but to do it again is an even bigger ask. That's what we're working towards and if we can make it, we'll give it everything we've got."
Young gun with big ambitions
Remarkably, Mexican net-minder Miguel Angel Estrada Ramirez, who wears an unconventional No 12 on his back, only took up the game in July this year. "I left [Mexican league club] Pachuca a year ago, and I was put in touch with Ramon Raya by friends of mine. Now here I am about to play in a World Cup semi-final," explains Estrada, 11 years Diego's junior.
"Getting into the last four was a dream before we came to Rio," he continues. "We were so nervous, but after the first period against Russia we realised we could play good soccer. We were a little more relaxed against Russia and we had the feeling we could make an impression. Now we know for sure that we can reach the final." And given Mexico's fine form since trailing Russia in that first period, who could disagree with him?
Even with the defence-minded Uruguayans up next, Estrada believes his side will remain loyal to their attacking philosophy. "They don't tend to take too many risks. Although we're a more ambitious side and we can adapt to the demands of each game, we'll be sticking to our style: to attack and keep on attacking right till the end. Rather than changing our tactics, we'll get them to change theirs."
El Tri are the only one of the unfancied outfits to reach this rarefied stage of the tournament and the inimitable Estrada thinks he knows why. "It seemed to me like Nigeria and Senegal were happy just to get to the knockout rounds. That's the difference with us. Against Uruguay we'll be battling for every ball just like in the other games, and dreaming of reaching the final and even winning it."