Three-time world champions Brazil arrived at the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004 determined to exact revenge for their bitter defeat to Spain in the Guatemala 2000 Final. However, after making serene progress through the group stages, Falcao and company saw their dream of a fourth title shattered in the semi-finals as the Iberians again shaded the decisive showdown. Spain then held their nerve to overcome European champions Italy 2-1 in the Final to claim back-to-back world crowns.
Chinese Taipei was short on shocks, but the fans were treated to rich entertainment and compelling evidence of a narrowing gap between the leading teams and the chasing pack over the last four years. FIFA.com revisits a fascinating tournament in Chinese Taipei.
Spanish unity of purpose carries the day
Ahead of the tournament, the Spanish players were sceptical about their chances of retaining the world title. Doubts remained over their true quality and potential in the face of an intimidating array of challengers. Even at the event itself, coach Javier Lozano reckoned at least four other teams ranked alongside his men as realistic contenders for the title. The Iberians negotiated the two group stages competently enough: a morale-boosting 2-0 opening victory over Ukraine was followed by a 10-0 walk in the park against the hosts and a 7-0 demolition of demoralised Egypt. They were forced to up their work rate in the second phase, starting with a sleeves-rolled-up 2-0 dismissal of the Czech Republic, before a shock 3-2 defeat at the hands of Italy left the champions in the uncomfortable position of needing to beat dark horses Portugal to reach the semi-finals. Lozano's troops duly rose to the occasion with a 3-1 triumph and a place in the last four.
There the champions came up against favourites Brazil, hungry for revenge after the Final defeat in 2000. Lozano predicted an attractive encounter, and events proved his assessment to be spot-on. In a roller coaster of a match, the sides took turns holding the upper hand, but at the end of the day Spanish determination and a little luck saw them sneak the victory in a shoot-out. That disciplined display of team unity rather than extravagant individual skill earned them their place in the Final, and a rematch with the same European champions Italy who had handed Spain a bitter defeat a few days earlier. The respective coaches agreed to disagree on the significance of Spain's sole reverse at the tournament, but in the final analysis the telling factor proved to be experience. The Spanish were contesting their third world championship Final on the bounce and carved out a 2-1 victory over a weary Italian side, who nonetheless celebrated the greatest success in their futsal history. The Italians won friends in the course of the event thanks to a compact but disciplined brand of futsal. Coach Alessandro Nuccorini justifiably expressed pride in his charges afterwards, and Bacaro was named third best player at the tournament.
Semi-final berth for Argentina
Chinese Taipei saw Argentina emerge from the futsal hinterland to stake a real claim for top team status in the future. Drawn in a tricky first round group with Portugal, Iran and Cuba, the Albiceleste registered a 100 percent success rate. The South Americans kicked off with a 3-0 opening victory against Cuba that was an exercise in stickability after a long period of stubborn resistance by opposing keeper Wilfredo Carbo. Fernando Larrañaga's men then edged past the Portuguese, and rounded off their promising start with a 6-1 demolition of a disappointing Iran.
Larrañaga's side began the second phase with a 2-1 win against the USA but lost their next match by the same scoreline to Brazil and went into a do-or-die meeting with Ukraine. A better goal difference meant Argentina would be satisfied with a single point, and they got exactly that after a goalless encounter. The last four was to be as far as they would go. Semi-final rivals Italy raced into an early lead and skilfully protected the advantage despite Argentina's thrilling late surge.
The wizardry of Falcao
Brazilian striker Falcao was the undisputed star of the fifth FIFA Futsal World Championship. A 13-goal haul made him the leading scorer at the event and a crowd favourite in a series of scintillating displays that deservedly earned him Player of the Tournament honours. The 27-year-old drew gasps and cheers for his prodigious technical ability, but never forgot he was playing a team game. He opened his account in the first match against Australia, although the unforgettable highlight came against Thailand. The acrobatic and outrageously skilled move known as the "Carretilha" had the Thailand keeper groping at thin air and the fans searching for superlatives.
Futsal world moves on from Guatemala 2000
Overall standards have improved significantly compared to the previous event in Guatemala, a fact noted by former Brazil coach Ferretti and a number of experts. Four years ago, the host nation suffered the humiliation of losing a game 29-2, but this time the heaviest defeat sustained by the inexperienced but eager Chinese Taipei side was a relatively respectable 12-0 in the opener against Egypt. Nations such as Japan, Thailand, Egypt and Cuba have benefited from their rapid progress in developing the sport. The Australians lost all three games but showed promise, and even the USA demonstrated an aptitude for the sport despite a squad long on outdoor experience but packed with futsal novices. Spain, Italy and Brazil cemented their positions at the top of the world game, while Argentina's fourth place was the pleasant surprise of the tournament. The next global showdown in 2008 can hardly come quickly enough.
Egypt, Spain, Ukraine, Chinese Taipei, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Czech Republic, Italy, Paraguay, USA, Japan, Argentina, Portugal, Iran, Cuba
Names to watch:
Luis Amado, Javi Rodríguez, Marcelo (all ESP), Vinicius Bacaro, Edgar Bertoni, Grana (all ITA), Falcão, Simi, Franklin (BRA), Carlos Sanchez, Javier Guisande, Leandro Planas (all ARG), Ivan, Joel Queiros (both POR), Wael Abdel Mawla (EGY), Sergiy Koridze (UKR), Johnny Torres (USA), Wilfredo Carbo (CUB), Kenichiro Kogure (JPN), Vahid Shamsaee (IRN), Anucha Munjarern (THA)
NTU in Taipeh City, Linkou Gymnasium in Tao Yuan
Total goals scored:
237 (average: 5.93 per match)
13 goals: Falcao (BRA); 10 goals: Indio (BRA); 9 goals: Marcelo (ESP)
The FIFA Futsal World Championship had never witnessed a 0-0 scoreline before the event, but Chinese Taipei 2004 produced two historic goalless draws, the first between Italy and Portugal, and the second between Argentina and Ukraine a few days later. The milestone results point to increasing defensive sophistication.