Octet poised for first steps
Brazil versus Spain would have made a worthy final. It still could, but first these two heavyweights must collide in their FIFA Beach Soccer Marseille 2008 opener. Beforehand, last year's runners-up Mexico and Japan will kick-off what is popularly considered the tournament's toughest section.
Group C, meanwhile, is arguably the most wide-open pool, and its competitors will be out to hit the ground running on Friday. Russia and Argentina will get the ball rolling, before United Arab Emirates and Cameroon lock horns. FIFA.com is here to whet your appetite for what promises to be a day of pulsating action, all of which you can watch live and free on FIFA.com TV.
The big match
Brazil-Spain, 19.15 (local time)
If last year's meeting between the then-reigning world and European kings is anything to go by, then fans are in for a treat. Then, Brazil beat Portugal 10-7 in an enthralling contest en route to gold, and it is another Iberian heavyweight that will now attempt to undo the imperious holders. Fresh from edging their Portuguese neighbours in the final of the European qualifiers for Marseille 2008, Spain believe they can upset the Seleção and, consequently, take a significant step towards a place in the quarter-finals. Only time will tell whether they can, but one thing that can be taken for granted, with geniuses aplenty including Amarelle and Buru on show, is a thrilling spectacle.
The other games
Mexico and Japan are aware that taking maximum points from their curtain-raiser is imperative if they are to maintain realistic hopes of progressing beyond the group stage. Ramon Raya's side will be expected to sprint out of the blocks after their Rio de Janeiro 2007 heroics, although Asia's only ever-presents at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup will be no pushover. Argentina, too, have appeared in all three previous editions, and they will look to Ezequiel Hilaire to find a way past Russia's infallible No1 Andrey Bukhlitskiy. Two-time Asian champions United Arab Emirates will be out to pocket their first victory in the competition at the fourth time of asking, while in Cameroon they will be up against the youngest side in Marseille.
Players to watch
UAE forward Rami Al Mesaabi and his Cameroonian counterpart Aime Yombi A Moubeke may not be household names, but that could well change if they take their enchanting form during the qualifiers on to the Prado.
250 days after winning Rio de Janeiro 2007, Brazil will make their Marseille 2008 bow.
What they said
"On behalf of all the players, I'd like to thank the organisers for taking this tournament away from Brazil, which means a lot to the development of the sport. It's special for us to be here battling to defend our title away from home, and it makes it an even bigger challenge to us," Buru, Brazil player.
The full schedule
Russia-Argentina (14.45 CET)
Mexico-Japan (16.15 CET)
United Arab Emirates-Cameroon (17.45 CET)
Brazil-Spain (19.15 CET)