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Ukrainian challenge for champions

Spain's defence of the FIFA Futsal World Championship begins on Sunday against Ukraine, when Italy also start.

Spain begin their defence of the FIFA Futsal World Championship on Sunday against Ukraine, when European title-holders Italy also kick off their campaign in Chinese Taipei.

Spain defend title
After the opening match between the hosts and African champions Egypt in Taipei City, Spain meet the fourth team in Group A, Ukraine, whose previous appearance in the finals in 1996 ended with a 3-2 defeat in the last four by the Spanish hosts. Although Brazil won the final that year, Spain gained their revenge four years later in Guatemala, thanks to two late goals from Javi Rodríguez. Part of the squad again this time around, Rodríguez also helped Spain defeat Ukraine in the 2001 UEFA European Futsal Championship final.

Italy meet US
Meanwhile, in Group C, Italy hope to match their form in winning the continental title on home soil in 2003 when they play CONCACAF champions the United States, world finalists 12 years ago. The game is at the second tournament venue, Tao Yuan County, and is followed by Japan's fixture with Paraguay.

'Evenly balanced'
Italy coach Alessandro Nuccorini has predicted a tough pool, which like all the groups will see the top two progress to the next stage. "I sincerely believe that Group C will be the toughest," he said." A lot of people will be surprised to see that it is actually the most evenly balanced and definitely the tightest."

Monday openers
Europe's other contenders, Portugal and 2005 European Championship hosts the Czech Republic, commence their campaigns on Monday.