Baku, June 26, AZERTAC
Italy threw Group B wide open by fighting back with four goals in five minutes to beat world no.1 Russia 6-4 in their Beach Soccer match on Thursday night.
After two tight periods, an Egor Shaikov volley straight from the final period kick-off gave two-time World Cup winners Russia a seemingly comfortable 3-1 lead.
But 11 minutes and 56 seconds is a long time in Beach Soccer.
Up stepped Italy's talisman Gabriele Gori. Following a Francesco Corosiniti far post header, the 27-year-old Gori scored two goals in 32 seconds.
Moments later, Paolo Palmacci smashed in a free-kick and Italy were on their way to victory.
"We are soaking up the moment," said Gori. "Today we would have been in or out (of the tournament). We are hungry for victory and we can keep winning like today."
The Italians are now well placed, with a victory in normal time or extra time against world no.21 Hungary in Friday's first match (at 16:00) guaranteeing them a spot in the semi-finals.
It is a lot tougher for the Russians. They take on world no.5 ranked Spain (19:00) in a repeat of the 2013 World Cup final. If Italy do take two or three points off Hungary, then the Russia vs Spain clash becomes winner-take-all.
In the final match on Thursday, Azerbaijan gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about, despite falling 7-4 to Switzerland.
There was little sense of what was to come as the host nation went 4-0 down at the start of the second period. But a penalty, a breathtaking volley from inside their own half and two Sabir Allahguliyev strikes took the world no.43 ranked team to 5-4 behind with more than eight minutes of the final period remaining.
Despite the fanatical urging of their fans, it was as close as Azerbaijan got to the world no.3 ranked Swiss. A late red card and two calm finishes from Switzerland drew the sting out of the final few minutes.
"I told them to believe that you can beat them," said Azerbaijan's Portuguese coach Ze Miguel. "I tried to motivate them. Now they are in a room and crying."