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08 Jul 2015
Hosts Portugal take centre stage in Espinho
The local team is more than prepared for a long and successfull World Cup
The wait is over and it is time for the ball to start rolling! The eagerly anticipated first day of action at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 is imminent, with four games and plenty of excitement in store at the Praia da Baia in Espinho.
Groups A and B both get underway, with eight teams looking to get off to a positive start in a tournament that will keep beach soccer fans buzzing until 19 July.
Match of the day
Portugal-Japan, 14.30 local time
The host nation face their first big challenge and will no doubt draw on the fervent backing of the crowd against a strong Japanese team. After missing out on the last Beach Soccer World Cup in Tahiti two years ago, Portugal kick off 'their' tournament striving to achieve a maiden World Cup triumph.
However, Mario Narciso’s side know they face a stern opening test against the runners-up in AFC qualifying, led by ace goalscorer Ozu Moreira, winner of the adidas Silver Ball at Tahiti 2013.
The other matches
In the other Group A encounter, Argentina take on Senegal, a pair that both made the tournament by narrow margins in their respective qualification competitions.
In South American Zone qualifying, the Argentinians began the group phase with two wins (one in a shoot-out) and a defeat, thus having to make history by obtaining a first-ever qualifying victory over Brazil in their last game to reach the semi-finals. A loss against Paraguay would then prevent them from reaching the final, but La Albiceleste booked their place at Portugal 2015 thanks to an extra-time win over Ecuador in the play-off for third place.
In African Zone qualifying, Senegal had to rely on goal difference to reach the semi-finals, where they beat Nigeria 2-1 to make the final. Though reigning continental champions, they were unable to retain their crown after falling to defeat against Madagascar.
The first teams to step onto the Praia da Baia pitch will be Italy and Costa Rica, who play the tournament opener at 13.00 (local time) in Group B. The Italians’ sole defeat in the European qualification competition was against Russia in the semi-finals, after which they picked up the consolation prize of a bronze medal by beating Spain. Moreover, Italy were runners-up in the first European Games held in June in Azerbaijan, when they only succumbed 3-2 in the final, again against world champions Russia.
Costa Rica, for their part, were also runners-up in the CONCACAF tournament, and an impressive campaign was only blemished by a 4-0 defeat to Mexico in the final. After failing to earn a single point on their Beach Soccer World Cup debut at Dubai 2009, Los Ticos will want to show they have made progress in Portugal.
The first day of matches is rounded off with the appearance of one of the big favourites for this World Cup. Dubai 2009 runners-up Switzerland lost just one game in European qualification, the final against all-powerful Russia, and come face to face with another team on a high: Oman.
Oman reached Portugal 2015 by becoming Asian champions, after getting the better of Japan - the favourites and winners of the previous two continental tournaments. Oman will now be gunning to improve on their showing on their World Cup debut at Italy 2011, when they finished the group phase without a point.
Player to watch
It is Portugal’s day in Espinho, and it is also a day to salute one of the best players in the history of beach soccer. Iconic sharpshooter Madjer has the honour of captaining the hosts and the perfect opportunity to extend a record he has made his own.
In the six World Cups he has taken part in, the Portuguese player has accumulated an astonishing 79 goals, more than double the tally of his closest rivals, Brazilians Bruno and Andre, who have each scored 39. Madjer has won the adidas Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer three times.
2 - Among the three teams who have never failed to qualify for a Beach Soccer World Cup, two kick off their campaigns this Thursday: Japan play Portugal, while Argentina go head to head against Senegal. The third member of this elite group, Brazil, play on Friday against Mexico.
“We are in good shape and are one of the favourites to win the tournament. Portugal being crowned World Champions would not be a surprise to anyone,” Portugal coach Mario Narciso.
Match schedule (all times are local)
Italy-Costa Rica (13.00)