Spain aim to complete a hat-trick of FIFA Futsal World Cup titles as they and five other European contenders get their campaigns under way in Brazil from Tuesday.
The holders will be joined by 2004 runners-up Italy, Ukraine, Portugal, the Czech Republic and the one nation of the six that missed out four years ago, Russia, in the expanded 20-team tournament. There are five pools of four, with the top two going into a second group stage, which in turn leads to the semi-finals with the final scheduled for 19 October.
Spain, who are also European champions, do not kick off their campaign until Wednesday with a tough Group D opener against Asian counterparts Iran, while Uruguay meet Libya in the other game in Rio de Janeiro. The Czech Republic are also in the pool, and they face the Spaniards in their opening game on Friday. Ukraine start their Group C bid the same day in Brasilia against Guatemala, with Argentina, China and Egypt also in the section.
Italy take part in the opening match in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, facing Thailand in Group B, while Portugal begin on Thursday against Paraguay, when the Azzurri meet the United States. Russia are in Brasilia for Group A, but do not start until Thursday against Cuba. The Caribbean islanders play the Solomon Islands on Tuesday after Japan face hosts Brazil, whose squad has eight Spanish-based players, including a quartet from UEFA Futsal Cup contenders Interviú Madrid.
Azzurri coach Alessandro Nuccorini is hopeful of victory, but admitted to fifa.com: "Brazil and Spain are favourites to win the trophy. Portugal and Russia could be the surprises of the tournament. We'll give it our best shot in every match. I think this will be the best World Cup ever. "
|2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup first group stage: 30 September-19 October|
European contenders in bold
|Group A: Brasilia||Group B: Rio de Janeiro|
|Solomon Islands||United States|
|Group C: Brasilia||Group D: Rio de Janeiro|
|2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup second group stage: 11-14 October|
|Group E: Rio de Janeiro||Group F: Brasilia|
|Winners Group A||Winners Group B|
|Winners Group C||Winners Group D|
|Runners-up Group B||Runners-up Group A |
|Runners-up Group D ||Runners-up Group C |
|2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup knockout rounds: Rio de Janeiro|
|Semi-finals: 16 October|
|1: Runners-up Group F v Winners Group E (15.30CET) |
|2: Winners Group F v Runners-up Group E (17.30CET)|
|Third-place play-off: 18 October|
|Losers Semi-final 1 v Losers Semi-final 2 (15.30CET)|
|Final: 19 October|
|Winners Semi-final 1 v Winners Semi-final 2 (15.30CET)|