FIFA Futsal World Cup qualifying got underway on Thursday with 2004runners-up Italy in spectacular goalscoring form but rising forceRomania pegged back by Belarus.
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Due to France's withdrawal, the only match in this two-team group will be on Sunday between hosts Serbia and Russia, who both made the 2007 UEFA European Futsal Championship finals.
The Netherlands were the biggest winners of the day as they gained a 13-0 win against Estonia, who were playing their first competitive futsal international. Group hosts Bosnia-Herzegovina pipped Russia to the play-offs four years ago but today were held 1-1 by Lithuania.
Holders Spain will kick off this three-team group on Friday against Georgia in Caceres, with Croatia meeting those nations over the following two days.
Hosts Hungary were in mean mood as they won 3-0 against F.Y.R. Macedonia. However, they were then trumped by Poland who overcame World Cup newcomers England 10-2.
Montenegro made a dream opening to competitive international futsal against Belgium as Jonathan Neukermans put through as own goal after seven minutes. But experienced Belgium soon took control to win 8-3 against the newcomers with André, Karim Chaibai and Salhi Saad all scoring twice. It then seemed the home team Romania, who surprised many by qualifying for the 2007 EURO finals, would defeat Belarus as Marian Sotarca and Gabriel Molomfalean gave them a 2-0 half-time lead. But Sergei Kuznetsov pulled one back and although Florin Matei restored the two-goal cushion, Belarus reduced arrears again and Aleksandr Savintsev snatched a 3-3 draw.
The Czech Republic look at home in Chrudim as the 2007 European qualifiers beat Finland 6-1. But Azerbaijan lead the group tonight thanks to their 9-1 victory against Armenia.
Slovenia captain Milivoje Simeunović led the way for his team in Malta as he gave them the half-time lead against Albania before Benjamin Melink sealed a 2-0 win. World Cup debutants Malta themselves showed their improvement under former Czech coach Michal Stříž as they narrowly lost 2-1 to Greece, thanks in part to excellent home goalkeeper Bjorn Vassallo. Thomas Panou and Panagiotis Morfesis scored either side of half-time for Greece and although Nebjosa Mijailovic pulled one back, Malta could not equalise.
Italy had few problems delighting the home fans in Pescara as the runners-up to Spain in the last European and World Cup finals beat Cyprus 12-1. It was closer in the early game, Kazakhstan edging to a 2-1 victory against Andorra.
Portugal, fourth behind Russia on home soil in the European finals, are top after a 4-0 win against Latvia. Hosts Turkey, in their debut World Cup, fought hard but fell 4-2 to Slovakia.
Bulgaria, like Malta, are making their World Cup bow on home territory in Varna and were scoreless at the break against Moldova before succumbing 2-1. Ukraine are regulars in futsal final tournaments as defeated Israel 4-1.