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Goal in sight for Europe's élite

The dates have been confirmed for the finals of the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Championship in Chinese Taipei.

The dates have been confirmed for the finals of the 2004 FIFA Futsal World Championship in Chinese Taipei.

Flying the flag
The competition will be played between 29 November and 19 December 2004 with five European nations flying the flag for UEFA. Among the sides hoping to be involved are defending world champions Spain and the reigning European title-holders Italy.

Lining up
Qualifying takes place early next month, a full year before the finals, with 32 European nations entered in all. The sides have been divided into ten groups with Groups 1 and 2 featuring four teams and the remaining eight sections having three each. The ten group winners will then compete in a play-off round for the five places, with UEFA staging the draw for this stage on 13 November.

Old and new
Spain are in Group 10, along with Slovakia and mini-tournament hosts Latvia, and will be looking to reassert themselves as Europe's top team. Coach Javier Lozano can still call on the experience of players like Daniel, Kike and Javi Rodgríuez but there are also newer names like Fran Serrejón and Cogorro.

'Fresh start'
Lozano said: "We have put together a new team with the aim of recovering our old hunger and taking our first steps towards the next World Cup. An era has ended for us and we are facing a fresh start."

Home advantage
The Italians, who lifted the 2003 UEFA European Futsal Championship in February this year, are in Group 2 with Belgium, France and Finland. Coach Alessandro Nuccorini will hope his side can take full advantage of acting as hosts for the mini-tournament, with Montesilvano chosen as the venue for the matches.

Cautious approach
It promises to be a tough section with both the Italians and Belgians fancying their chances of progression. Speaking to the Italian Football Federation's official website, Futsal division president Fabrizio Tonelli said: "We will have to be very careful, Belgium will be the toughest of the three opponents."