Latin American sides hoping for eastern promise
First day of action at FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™
Hosts set to face Venezuela, 2016 runners-up Russia face Egypt
Two games between sides from Central America and Central Asia
The FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™ is finally set for kick-off, a year later than originally scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That delay has only heightened the sense of anticipation in the host nation's ranks, but at long last they can make their grand debut at this level, beginning their 'own' tournament against fellow newcomers Venezuela in Kaunas.
A few hours before that game, Russia and Egypt will share the honour of getting the action under way, five years after Russia finished runners-up at the last edition. The opening day of matches also features two clashes of playing styles and regions, with Central Asian neighbours Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan both taking on rivals from Central America – Costa Rica and Guatemala respectively.
Sunday 12 September (local time) Group A Kazakhstan - Costa Rica, Kaunas, 18.00 Lithuania - Venezuela, Kaunas, 20.00 Group B Russian Football Union (RFU) - Egypt, Vilnius, 16.00 Uzbekistan - Guatemala, Vilnius, 18.00
Ticos worth watching Costa Rica's finest performance in this tournament was also their most recent, Los Ticos reaching the first knockout round at Colombia 2016. Most memorably, they were the only team to avoid defeat against Argentina and even led the eventual winners 2-0 before being pegged back to 2-2. With five more years of experience under their belts and having qualified yet again, they should be ready to defy the odds once more and frustrate the favourites.
Home advantages to count? Picking a favourite in a game between two debutants is no easy task. Lithuania and Venezuela will both be gracing the world stage for the first time and taking a huge step into the unknown. However, unlike the Baltic side, who qualified as hosts, La Vinotinto earned their ticket at the CONMEBOL Futsal Championship. That ought to give them a little more experience, which Lithuania will hope to cancel out thanks to the backing of their fans.
Star showdown As for RFU and Egypt, both will be appearing for the seventh time at this level, and the two teams are crammed full with experience. Each boast players who have shone in this tournament, though it will be particularly intriguing to watch the duel between Russian forward Eder Lima – adidas Golden Boot winner at Thailand 2012 and adidas Silver Boot winner at Colombia 2016 – and Egypt pivot Abdulrahman Elashwal, the Pharaohs top scorer in 2016 with five goals, including a hat-trick in their historic defeat of Italy in the last 16.
Uzbeks target first win It was in that same edition that Uzbekistan made their first World Cup appearance. They nearly clinched a first victory too, leading Colombia 3-1 with seconds to go in the group stage before conceding two late goals. That nonetheless secured their first and only point at this level, but can they finally get their breakthrough win against Guatemala, who are back in this tournament for the fourth consecutive time and fifth overall?
Advice from the experts of the FIFA Technical Study Group for anyone new to futsal: "People watching futsal for the first time will probably be surprised and impressed by the speed of the game and the constant flow of attacks, counter-attacks and defence. But I'd also encourage them to watch the players who don't have the ball. The player in possession is the focus of attention and at the heart of the action, but we tend to overlook the impact of the other four players." Graeme Dell (England), FIFA futsal instructor
"I would tell youngsters to observe the individual examples of technique. In very little space and with very little time, players need to solve problems: pass, shoot or dribble in a one on one. They should watch these great players so that they can apply that in their own sport. For any adults new to the game, they should look out for the speed they play at: the pace of the counter-attacks, one on ones and shots, and the creativity needed to get out of a problem or shake off pressure, plus the creativity required to finish in targets as difficult as futsal nets, with such good goalkeepers." Miguel Rodrigo (Spain), FIFA futsal instructor