El Salvador shock Italy as favourites toil
THE DAY REPLAYED – Italian dreams of glory at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna 2011 evaporated on quarter-finals day, as Gli Azzurri lost a dramatic encounter with surprise package El Salvador after extra time. In the other three games, the favourites prevailed and made the last four, but not without a mighty scare or two along the way.
Russia, regarded by many insiders as a decent contender for the trophy, were the only one of the top teams to enjoy a trouble-free passage to the semi-finals. The Eastern Europeans cruised into a 5-1 lead over Mexico, and although the CONCACAF representatives pulled a couple of goals back before the end, it was ultimately plain sailing for coach Mikhail Likhachev and his men.
By contrast, Portugal hit unexpectedly choppy waters before edging out Senegal on penalties. The African champions put up a terrific fight against the overwhelming favourites, but the day was lost when Cheikh Ba fired wide from the spot, leaving superstar Madjer to step up and send his side through to the last four.
Italy’s meeting with El Salvador was certainly the most dramatic match of the day, with a welter of chances at both ends and the lead changing hands several times. The hosts struck at the death to send the game into extra-time, but the Central Americans had an ace up their sleeves in the shape of Frank Velasquez, who capped an outstanding personal performance with his team’s winner as Italy’s hopes of silverware sank without trace.
Brazil ended up victorious against Nigeria, but it was a laboured performance at times from the undisputed masters of the beach game, who let slip a three-goal lead with only minutes of normal time remaining and were forced into extra time. However, sharp-shooter Andre then netted his fourth goal of the evening and Brazil finally prevailed in a high-scoring encounter.
Goal of the day
James Okwuosa, 14:47, Brazil-Nigeria
Brazil sharp-shooter Andre and Nigerian striker Bartholomew Ibenegbu spent much of the match vying for the unofficial goal of the day honour, but the accolade ultimately went to James Okwuosa, who controlled the ball on the halfway line with his back to goal, before flipping skywards and unleashing a scissor-kick shot of such ferocity that Bruno and keeper Mao could only stand and stare as the ball rocketed into the net.
Russia in mourning
The Russians wore black armbands for their game against Mexico, mourning the 44 victims of the previous day’s devastating plane crash in their home country. The death toll included 36 players from top ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. A minute’s silence was observed before kick-off in memory of the deceased.
Senegal, the neutrals’ choice
Senegal came within an ace of upsetting mighty Portugal, but the Africans had already won the hearts of the Stadio del Mare faithful. The capacity crowd threw their support behind the underdogs, and rose as one to acclaim their courage and fighting spirit as the inconsolable players trudged back to the dressing room afterwards.
Italy and their boisterous supporters approached the meeting with El Salvador convinced they would win, so the hosts’ shock defeat sparked scenes of utter dismay and grief. Many members of the crowd clutched their heads in disbelief, as the players sank to the sand and, in some cases, wept.
Ever-present Buru seeks fifth medal
Brazil’s Buru marked his 250th international appearance with a goal as his team narrowly secured a berth in the semi-finals. The 35-year-old veteran has appeared at all six FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups to date, and could come away from Ravenna with his fifth winners’ medal.
4 – Only two players from CONCACAF nations had previously scored four goals in a game at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, but El Salvador maestro Frank Velasquez has now equalled the feat previously accomplished by Morgan Plata of Mexico in 2007, and Canada’s Sipho Sibiya the previous year.
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