Thursday 08 September 2016, 06:00

Can anyone topple futsal's dominant duo?

Seven editions have come and gone, and it has always been the same story: either Brazil or Spain have claimed the trophy at each FIFA Futsal World Cup, from the inaugural edition (Netherlands 1989) to the most recent instalment in Thailand four years ago. Furthermore, in 2008 and 2012, the Spaniards and Brazilians contested the final between themselves.

With their tactical discipline, technical prowess and mental fortitude, the two superpowers have ruled the roost year in, year out. The other hopefuls have had no choice but to admire their exploits from the outside and learn from them. They have done just that, developing in step with their burgeoning sport. While the duo could arguably afford to have an off day in the past, that is no longer the case now, when they are being increasingly pushed to the max. Could a power shift be on the cards?

We are about to find out in Colombia, where the global showpiece kicks off this Saturday, 10 September, and runs until 1 October. A total of 24 teams go into the eighth edition of the competition seeking to shine on the world stage, with the cities of Cali, Medellin and Bucaramanga doing the hosting honours. While the big two will be bidding to maintain their stranglehold, they have challengers snapping at their heels, raring to build on the experience they have acquired and to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Titanic trio head the bill Brazil and Spain remain as hungry as ever and the rest of the world cannot say that they were not warned. The Seleção signalled as much by defending their crown in the South American preliminary tournament, overcoming old foes Argentina 4-0 in the final. That same day, La Roja dispatched Russia to become UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 champions. The Spaniards subsequently bounced back from a hiccup in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying play-off against Slovenia to book their ticket to Colombia in style.

Thirty-nine years young, evergreen attacker Falcao will be back in the mix to add to his legend, as will Je and Fernandinho, two long-standing team-mates alongside whom he has tasted much of his success. On the Spanish side, Juanjo, Carlos Ortiz and Fernandao also know the score, having been there and done it all before.

Italyboast similarly strong credentials and will be continuing to bank on the blend of youth, experience and individual brilliance through which they claimed third place at the last two editions and graced the final in 2004. Fresh off breaking the 100-cap barrier, Marco Ercolessi remains among the squad's mainstays, while fellow linchpins Sergio Romano, Gabriel Lima and Stefano Mammarella are on the brink of emulating this feat.

Chasing pack out to make the step up There are several other countries with grounds to believe that they can gatecrash the podium party. Not least Russia, who have Eder Lima – the top scorer at Thailand 2012 – in their ranks, as well as a solid, settled defence behind him. Nerves and bad luck have got the better of the Russians at the business end of major competitions in the past, including in February this year, when they suffered a third straight defeat in the final of the EURO. To add insult to injury, this loss came against Spain, who dumped them out in Thailand. However, the Eastern Europeans have what it takes to scale the heights and, if they manage to ally their undoubted ability to the steely resolve that is required when the pressure is on, Colombia could witness a turning point in futsal history.

Portugal and Ukraine could also be gunning for glory if they are able to smooth out their rough edges. Both are forces to be reckoned with, but have lacked the X factor to match the top sides when push comes to shove, as was evidenced once again at the EURO. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, for their part, are less experienced, but have been making giant strides and Colombia 2016 could serve as a top-class finishing school for them.

The other South American heavyweights, meanwhile, have had enough of being put in the shade by Brazil. Paraguay and Argentina have endured a frustrating relationship with the World Cup, frequently coming close to making a real impact but always falling by the wayside before the home straight. The opposite is true of Colombia, who advanced to the semi-finals on their debut four years ago. They will be confident of going even further in their second adventure, especially as they have home advantage. The local fans will expect no less and their passionate support could make the difference at key moments.

Continued progress, another target Undisputed top dogs at continental level with 11 titles, Iranare still waiting to carry that dominance over to the world stage. Team Melli, who posted the best defensive and attacking statistics en route to triumphing at the 2016 AFC Futsal Championship, head to Colombia stronger than ever and meaning business. Australia, on the other hand, are looking to continue their apprenticeship, as are Thailand, who graced the Round of 16 on home territory in 2012. UzbekistanandVietnam, meanwhile, will be featuring in the competition for the first time.

The usual suspects will be flying the flag for CONCACAF. Panamaand Guatemalahave both advanced to the second round on one occasion and their example should provide inspiration for Cubaand regional champions Costa Rica, who have never quite found their feet at World Cup level.

Where Africa is concerned, Morocco have two compelling extra pieces of motivation to give a good account of themselves in Colombia. Firstly, they will be desperate to make amends for what happened in their maiden global outings in 2012, when they lost all three games, and they will also be out to live up to their status as African champions. Egypt, for their part, are regulars at the tournament but have failed to set the world alight in their previous attempts, while Mozambique will be making their bow.

Solomon Islands have reigned supreme in Oceania, yet have struggled somewhat when far from home and outside of their comfort zone. Still, the islanders showed signs of improvement in 2012 and will be hoping to keep kicking on in this, their third campaign.

Two title-hogging titans determined to come out on top again, several promising pretenders who dream of leapfrogging them and a number of underdogs eager to cause a stir. All the ingredients are in place for a fascinating spectacle at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016. Let the action begin!