One thing is certain after Thursday's Final Draw for the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2008: defending champions Spain will need to hit the ground running if they are to hold onto their crown. By contrast, hosts Brazil look to have been handed a less taxing route to the knockout phase, though they will not be underestimating any of their group opponents.
So who are the favourites to make it to the quarter-finals at Brazil 2008? FIFA.com is on hand to run the rule over the four groups and assess the various teams' chances of progressing.
Group A: Who will join the hosts?
Teams: Brazil, Russia, Japan, Cuba and Solomon Islands.
Without question, Brazil are the overwhelming favourites to finish top of this section. A cursory glance at their tournament record and current form is proof of that, but if you factor in home advantage, you get a team that will be extremely tough to beat. Russia looks a strong candidate to join them in the next round, particularly after their third-place finish at the last European Championship. However, the recent progress of Japan and Cuba mean the European side may not have things all their own way. Solomon Islands, for their part, have made the long journey more in hope than expectation and know that valuable experience could be their sole reward on this occasion.
What they said
"Russia is the only one of these sides we have yet to face. According to our coaching staff, they're one of the strongest teams around at present. We have a better idea about Cuba and Japan, two teams that have come on a lot in recent years," Brazil's technical supervisor, Reinaldo Simoes.
"Brazil and Russia are two great sides, but the rest of the group is even and affords us a good opportunity," Japanese FA delegate, Tsutomu Murayama.
Group B: Advantage Europe
Teams: Italy, Portugal, Thailand, Paraguay, USA.
With the exception of Spain, their bogey team since 2003, Italy have had the upper hand over their continental counterparts in recent times, and thus can be expected to progress from their section without undue difficulty. As for the rest of the group, an experienced Portugal look to be a notch above a revitalised Paraguay, although they will have to be at their very best to demonstrate it. Nor should USA or Thailand be dismissed out of hand. Both will be hoping to put into practice the lessons learned at Chinese Taipei 2004 and cause an upset or two this time around.
What they said
"Leaving aside Italy, who are a real force in the game, I think our group will be a very even one. Paraguay and USA both have very physical games, so they'll be two very tough matches," Portugal coach, Orlando Duarte.
Group C: A tango beat
Teams: Argentina, Ukraine, China PR, Guatemala, Egypt.
After finishing fourth last time out on Asian soil, Argentina have been closing the gap on neighbours Brazil without ever genuinely threatening their hegemony. None the less, they should have enough quality to top a group without a clear candidate for second place. Guatemala return to the world stage with a regional title under their belts, something neither battle-hardened Egypt nor unfancied China PR could manage this year. Last but not least are Ukraine, who can dazzle or disappoint on their day, and if it is the former we see at Brazil 2008, they will most certainly have a say in proceedings.
What they said
"We're pleased, even though we knew we'd be facing very good teams whatever happened. Despite Argentina's strength and Egypt's experience, we believe we have a chance. We've been working well together since 2000 and we weren't surprised to win the CONCACAF title. Indeed, we're more confident now we can compete for a place in the second round," Guatemala coach, Eduardo Estrada.
Group D: Champions with no margin for error
Teams: Spain, Czech Republic, Iran, Uruguay, Libya.
Despite having been drawn in the toughest group of the finals, defending champions Spain have such pedigree in this discipline that they remain favourites to win their section. That said, they will need to be especially careful with their group rivals, all of whom will fancy their chances of joining the Iberians in the next round. Iran may have yet to scale the heights outside Asia, where they remain the team to beat, but they have demonstrated in the past they can surprise anyone on their day. Uruguay showed what a steady side they were at the recent Copa America, where they finished runners-up to Brazil, while a much-improved Czech Republic still need to show they are capable of taking the next step, as do a very eager Libya.
What they said
"Our first objective is to make it to the second round. While on the face of it I don't think we'll have a problem in that respect, we know there will be no easy games. In Uruguay and Iran you have two teams with a lot of pedigree, while Czech Republic are an up-and-coming side. All of them will be very difficult opponents," Spain coach, Jose Venancio.