The first phase of the FIFA Futsal World Cup Brazil 2008 came to a conclusion on Thursday with the final round of games in groups C and D. Reigning world champions Spain held their nerve to record a 3-0 defeat of Uruguay and confirm top spot in their section.
In the battle to see who would join them, Czech Republic fought till the very end against Iran but missed out on the win they needed to advance. The eager eastern Europeans came back twice, but the Asian champions stood firm to book their spot among the best eight teams in the world.
In Group C, meanwhile, Ukraine failed to impress against the already eliminated China PR but did just enough to claim a 4-2 victory and with it first place. Argentina qualified behind them after beating a gutsy Guatemala 2-1.
The big game
Czech Republic 2-3 Iran
Goals: Jan Janovsky 27, Martin Dlouhy 31 (Czech Republic); Ali Hassanzadeh 16, 39, Vahid Shamsaee 30 (Iran)
With both outfits nursing hopes of a place in the next round, the tension was palpable as the match kicked off. And although the Czechs needed the three points to go through, it was the Iranians who dominated proceedings, Tomas Neumann's men only reacting after they had fallen behind to Ali Hassanzadeh's first-half goal.
The pace quickened in the first five minutes of the second half, Jan Janovsky breathing new life into the Czech challenge with an equaliser before Iran skipper Vahid Shamsaee promptly restored his side's lead. Martin Dlouhy hit back a minute later to make it 2-2 and set up a thrilling finale. The men in red dispensed with their goalkeeper in a desperate bid to conjure up a winner, but saw their hopes extinguished when Hassanzadeh scored a second time to secure Iran's place in the next round for the first time since Hong Kong 1992.
The other games
Spain have improved as the tournament has gone on and maintained their upward curve with a well-earned win against an Uruguay side that refused to buckle at the back. The holders struggled to break down their opponents in the opening exchanges and it was not until half-time approached that they went ahead, Javi Rodriguez firing home after a well-worked set-piece. La Roja moved in for the kill after the break, with Fernando getting round the back of the Celeste defence to put the Spanish 2-0 up and then outfoxing his marker to add a third as the clock ran down.
Argentina and Guatemala played out an entertaining encounter in Brasilia, with the Albiceleste taking an early lead through young Matias Lucuix. The Central Americans kept pushing forward in search of the win that would take them into the next phase, but with the Argentinians controlling possession, their attacking play failed to pay dividends. It was no surprise when Fernando Wilhem sealed the game, although Manuel Aristondo managed to grab a consolation goal for the departing Guatemalans in the dying stages.
Ukraine confirmed their ticket to the last eight with a tougher-than-expected 4-2 win over China PR. Dominant throughout, the Europeans struggled to convert their superiority into goals, thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Zheng Tao. Hu Jie dented Ukrainian pride with the opening goal, and it was not until the final minutes of the game that Gennadiy Lisenchuk's men made sure of the result they needed to top the section.
Vahid Shamsee (IRN)
The Iranian captain led by example in his team's crucial win over Czech Republic. As well as scoring the goal that put Iran ahead 2-1, he posed a consistent threat up front, pushing himself to the limit to keep the Asian side's Brazil 2008 challenge alive.
5 - The number of times Argentina have reached the second group phase, missing out only at Spain 1996. The South Americans' best finish was fourth place at Chinese Taipei 2004.
What they said
"Scoring the goals doesn't really matter because that's something the whole team contributes to. World Cup matches aren't like league matches. It's not just about the three points - there are four years of work at stake here too." Fernando, Spain player.
All the results
Argentina 2-1 Guatemala
Ukraine 4-2 China
Spain 3-0 Uruguay
Czech Republic 2-3 Iran