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Futsal World Cup begins: The biggest favorites, dark-horses, and underdogs

The ninth edition of the Futsal World Cup, the tournament which has been played since 1989 under the auspices of the umbrella football organization FIFA, will start today (12 September). The tournament's first match will be between Russia and Egypt, silver-medalist and quarterfinalists from the last Futsal World Cup held in Colombia in 2016.

The host of the 2021 World Cup is Lithuania, a Baltic state whose national team will make its debut at the Futsal World Cup. The tournament, initially scheduled to take place in 2020, runs from 12 September 12 to 3 October.

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Argentina is the defending champions. Futsal Gauchos defeated Russia in the finals five years ago, thus breaking the dominance of the Brazilians and Spaniards who "privatized" the previous seven editions. Namely, until the tournament in Colombia, Brazil won five world titles and Spain two. In addition, Spain had three silvers and Brazil one. One silver medal went to Italy (2004) and one to the Netherlands (1989) and the USA (1992), nations with the tradition of playing indoor football in times when futsal was a young and relatively unknown sport.

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But things have changed. Futsal has been increasing in the last ten years. It is already the World's most popular sport on an amateur level and one of the fastest-growing sports on a professional level. And that was confirmed at the last World Cup. First, the strongest Asian team, Iran, overtook Brazil in the quarterfinals and, finally, reached the bronze medal. Additionally, the strongest African national team at that time, Egypt, overtook Italy (2014 European champion) in the quarterfinals. Russia outclassed the 2016 European champions Spain (6:2) in the quarterfinals, and the ‘final four’ of the last Futsal World Cup was played without the two most dominant futsal nations in the sport's history.

Twenty-four national teams will participate in the ninth Futsal World Cup in Lithuania, divided into six groups. Europe has seven representatives, Asia five, South and North America four each, Africa three and Oceania one.

The Futsal World Cup will be played in three Lithuanian cities - Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda.

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Despite failing at the last World Cup, the Brazilians are still the first favorites of the tournament. The legendary Falcao is no longer in the frame, but Futsal Selecao is still the best. They are led by the according to the FutsalPlanet World's best player Ferrao. FutsalFeed's competitions also selected three other Brazilians for the best lineup in 2020 - the defender Rodrigo Hardy, goalkeeper Guitta, and coach Ricardinho. The Brazilian team is still made up of stars who play in Europe, such as Pito, Dyego, Marlon, Roche, Gadeia, Arthur, and the best young player in the World, Leozinho.

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Spain and the current world champion Argentina are in the narrowest circle of favorites, of course. Both teams have the best players globally, with the Spaniards not being able to count on their biggest star Sergio Lozano who suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury and has yet to return to action. Experienced Miguel Sayago Miguelin is no longer in the squad. Therefore, Spaniards will be led on the field by experienced captain Carlos Ortiz and the leaders of clubs in the strongest league in the World, Spanish LNFS (Chino, Miguel Mellado, Bebe).

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Besides winning the World's title in 2016, Argentina won the South American qualifying tournament in 2020, defeating Brazil in the final at Carlos Barbosa 3-1. Argentina is a team full of internationals who mostly play in Europe, with Constantino Vaporaki, Cristian Borruto, Santiago Basile, Leandro Cuzzolino and Maximiliano Rescia as the main stars.

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Russia is the current World’s vice-champion, which is also a team composed of naturalized Brazilians (Robinho, Romulo, and Eder Lima) and excellent domestic players led by one of the greatest talents of today, Yanar Asadov, then Ivan Chishkala, Sergey Abramov, Artem Antoshkin, Danil Davydov, Andrei Afanasev and others. 

Portugal is the current European champion, and Sporting Lisbon is the current club champion of Europe. Portugal is a team full of quality players, and they are still led by one of the best players in the World, Ricardinho. In addition, their quad is full of experienced players (Bruno Coelho, Joao Matos, Tiago Brito, Bebe, Vitor Hugo), then players in their prime (Panny Varela, Fabio Cecilio, Andre Coelho) and the super-talented Sporting youngsters (Zicky Te and Thomas Paco).

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The biggest 'dark horses' of the tournament (teams that can hope for medals, even gold, but their ascension to the throne would still be a surprise) is considered to be the strongest Asian team Iran, led by Benfica star Hossein Tayebi and a strong Euro-Asian team Kazakhstan led by naturalized Brazilians Higuita, Taynan da Silva and Douglas Junior.

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Next to them is Paraguay, after Brazil and Argentina, the strongest South American team. Then, a lot is expected from the strongest African representative Morocco, which was in excellent shape in early 2020 before the coronavirus stopped the World (including futsal).

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Of course, a lot can be expected from the strong European teams, Serbia, which recently lost to Brazil 3:4 (the Futsal Eagles scored in the last second, but their goal was disallowed), and the Czech Republic, which knocked out a powerful Croatian national team in the playoffs.

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Much is expected from the strong Asian teams of Uzbekistan, Japan and Thailand, and the North American champions Costa Rica. In the 'dark horses’ section, we can also include the quarterfinalist from the last World Cup, Egypt, which lost the primacy on the African continent to the solid Moroccan team.

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We included the debutant Venezuela as the strongest 'underdog'. Venezuela’s futsal team made a feat by qualifying for the World Cup. Still, the South Americans in futsal should never be written off, and they have perhaps the easiest group in the tournament with hosts Lithuania, Kazakhstan and Costa Rica.

The Lithuanian national team is comprised of complete amateurs and it isn't easy to expect more from them than to achieve a few points in the group. The only representative of Oceania, the Solomon Islands, may be an unpleasant rival. Still, the group's passage would be a huge surprise. Little is expected of the remaining Asian, African, and North American representatives of Vietnam, Angola, and Panama.

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The US national team is exciting, led by Serbian expert Dušan Jakica, they have one of the greatest talents in the World, Thomas Pondeca, but the Americans are situated in the ‘death group’ with Argentina, Iran, and Serbia, so everything but the last place into the group would come as quite a surprise.

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The two best national teams of each group and the four best third-placed teams will advance to the round of 16.