Footballing superpowers remain the teams to beat

Spain are not only the world's No.1 in football but also the top-ranked team in futsal. The Spaniards have won the Futsal World Cup twice at Guatemala 2000 and Taiwan 2004 and also finished runners-up at Spain 1996 and Brazil 2008.

Spain players celebrate winning the 2004 Futsal World Cup; below, Brazilian star Falcao is one of the greatest-ever futsal players.

Spain are hot favourites to win their third title at the seventh World Cup in Thailand. They qualified for the 2012 finals as European champions, scoring 32 goals without conceding a single goal in the qualifying round.

Strikers Sergio and Fernandao are two of the veterans from the 2008 World Cup with Spain's other key players including Ortiz, Aicardo and Alemao.

Spain have only one target in Thailand - to lift the trophy on Nov 18.

The Spaniards are in Group B along with Iran, Morocco and Panama.

Brazil are the most successful country in both football and futsal, having won the world title five times in football and four in futsal.

Brazil were the undisputed champions during the early days of the Futsal World Cup. They won the first three World Cup tournaments - the Netherlands 1989, Hong Kong 1992 and Spain 1996.

Their monopoly was then broken by the Spaniards, who defeated Brazil in the 2000 final and in the semi-finals in 2004. The South Americans' pre-eminent position was re-established on home soil in 2008 with a penalty shoot-out win against Spain in a dramatic final.

The Brazilians are defending world champions but are considered second favourites behind Spain in Thailand because of their stuttering campaign in the qualifying round.

The Selecao could only finish third in South America's qualifying round.

Their striker and captain Falcao is one of the best futsal players of all time. Now 35, he will be playing in his fourth World Cup, having won the Golden Ball award for the highest scorer twice.

Brazil's other stars include Tiago, Rodrigo and Fernandinho. They are in Group of Death along with Portugal, Japan and Libya in Group C.

Italy have won the world title in football four times but their best result in futsal was their runner-up finish at Taiwan 2004. The Italians were third in the previous edition.

Their coach is Roberto Menichelli who was a member of Italy's 1992 World Cup.

Italy had a relatively comfortable journey to the finals of Thailand 2012, with successive wins over Poland, Bulgaria and Romania putting them top of their group in the European qualifiers before going on to beat Norway over two legs.

The Italians conceded only five goals in five games in qualifying and scored 26 goals. This means they boast the second most prolific attacking line-up only behind two-time world champions Spain.

Saad Assis, Marcio Forte and Gabriel Lima are among their main players.

"We achieved our main objective by getting to Thailand, but after the win against Norway, it won't be easy to maintain our intensity," Menichelli said.

Italy are in Group D with Argentina, Australia and Mexico.

World No.5 Portugal are fourth favourites. Their players are mainly those from the previous edition such as Jao Benedito, Cardinal, Pedro and Ricardinho.

South American champions Argentina are only one of the three teams who have taken part in every finals with the other two sides being Brazil and Spain.

However, the Argentines have never done better than their fourth-place finish at Taiwan 2004.

"The way the results in the qualifying round went gave us the opportunity to go for the title," said coach Fernando Larranaga.

"Our objective in Thailand will be to reach the semi-finals. If we have a full strength squad then nobody should be shocked to see us in the last four."

Key players for Argentina are Santiago Elias, Sebastian Corazza and Santiago Basile.

Paraguay were the giant-killers in the qualifying round where they were the only team who beat world champions Brazil, defeating them in extra time in their semi-final before losing to Argentina in the final.

With players like Fabio Alcaraz, Juan Salas, Wlater Villalba and Pedro Ortiz, Paraguay hope to enjoy their best-ever campaign at Thailand 2012. While their squad may not be the best, their team spirit is second to none.

"We've been together since 2004 and it's time for us to win," their Brazilian coach, Fernando Leite, said. "We're used to facing big teams and we like that."

Paraguay are in Group A with Costa Rica, Ukraine and Thailand.

Japan are Asia's best hopes having qualified for the 2012 finals as Asian champions after thrashing Thailand 6-1 in the final of the continental championship.

Players like Kenichiro Kogure will cause problems for any defence along with Rafael Henmi who was voted as the 2012 AFC Futsal Championship MVP.

"We must continue to work hard," Henmi said. "Our team unity and team spirit were key to our success and I hope this will continue at the World Cup."

About the author

columnist
Writer: Tor Chittinand
Position: Reporter