Belarus have become the first team through to the European play-offs for the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Championship.
A 5-3 victory against Group 5 hosts Lithuania in the final match of the mini-tournament took the Belarussians through with a 100 per cent record to the two-legged tie on 10 and 17 December. It is not yet known who they will meet for the right to have one of the five European places on offer in Chinese Taipei next year.
The Netherlands had been the favourites to top the group but their challenge faltered after the opening game against Lithuania. Coach Vic Hermans had recalled veteran player Edwin Grunholz and two goals each from him and team-mate Calvin Blankendal had looked like giving the Dutch victory. However, Kestutis Rudzionis had other ideas for the Lithuanians and the goal that gave him a hat-trick two minutes from time was enough to earn a 5-5 draw.
The Dutch had the chance to bounce back against Belarus in the next game but were stunned by a 4-1 defeat. Two goals in the seventh minute from Vladimir Levus put Belarus on their way and the Netherlands were heading out of the competition. To make matters worse, Roger Maduro was sent off for the Dutch in the 38th minute.
It meant that Lithuania and Belarus would meet for a decisive final group game, with the latter only needing a point for first place. Arturas Rimkevicius sent the home fans wild with a goal after four minutes and, in a tight contest, the Lithuanians held the slender lead until half-time. However, in the 26th minute, Levus scored his third goal in two games to restore parity. Belarus added another two goals in the next six minutes and ultimately claimed victory with Audrius Markevicius's late dismissal adding to the Lithuanian woe.
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