US Futsal Team Draws Group B in World Cup

CHICAGO – The U.S. National Futsal Team has been drawn into Group B of the 2008 FIFA Futsal World Cup along with Italy, Portugal, Thailand and Paraguay. The U.S. will travel to South America to compete in the sixth edition of the world championship, which is being hosted by Brazil from Sept. 30 to Oct. 19.

The tricky Group B provides some familiar opposition for Keith Tozer’s U.S. team, which was drawn in the same group as Italy and Paraguay during the 2004 World Cup in Chinese Taipei.

“It is a difficult group, but any group at this level is going to present different challenges,” said Tozer, who has coached the U.S. Futsal Team since 1998 and will be on the sidelines for his second World Cup. “Italy [who lost to Spain in the 2004 Futsal World Cup Final] and Portugal are two of the top futsal teams in the world, and our group also features two up and coming teams in Thailand and Paraguay.”

The U.S. will begin its World Cup campaign on Sept. 30 in Rio de Janeiro, taking on Paraguay in Group B’s opening match. Four years ago, the U.S. defeated Paraguay, 3-1, in the first round. Following their first match, the U.S. will meet Italy on Oct. 2, before locking horns with Thailand on Oct. 4. Group B action for the U.S. concludes on Oct. 6 with a match against Portugal. All the U.S. group games will take place in Rio de Janeiro.

For Tozer, preparations begin now for what he sees as a crucial opening game with Paraguay, an up and coming South American side.

“In any tournament you have to start off with points, ideally three but at least one,” said Tozer. “It’s not just vital for the immediate standings, but the psychological boost of a win in the opening game is huge. It will be very important for us to come out and try to get a win against Paraguay.”

The U.S. team qualified for the FIFA Futsal World Cup by virtue of a third place finish in this year’s CONCACAF Championship. A Matthew Stewart hat trick spurred the U.S. to a 7-1 victory over Panama in the Third Place match, and ensured that the U.S. booked its ticket to the Futsal World Cup for the fifth time.

“We’ve rebuilt this team and have seven players who are relatively new to futsal. I feel we’re only going to get better and we will get to add two more players to the squad that competes in the World Cup,” continued Tozer. “It is a difficult draw, but the tournament is going to be in a fantastic setting, and we will certainly come and give everything we have.”

For the first time ever, 20 teams will take part in the Futsal World Cup, with the participants being divided into four groups of five teams. The top two teams in each group advance to the second group stage, where another round robin format will determine the semi-finalists. Competition begins on September 30 in both Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia and concludes with the tournament final on Sunday, Oct. 19 in Rio de Janeiro.

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