Baku, June 24, AZERTAC
Two vastly different matches produced equally dramatic finishes in the opening session of Baku 2015 Beach Soccer, as Spain and Portugal recorded narrow victories in searing heat at the Beach Arena.
A late equaliser in normal time and a perfect penalty shoot-out saw Spain escape with a dour win over Italy in the first match.
In the afternoon's second game, Portugal came from two goals down twice to beat Switzerland 6-5 in a thrilling second match that featured three red cards and three missed penalties.
Ranked no.3 and no.4 in the world and both known for their attacking flair, Switzerland and Portugal did not disappoint.
The Swiss led 2-0 and 4-2 but Nuno Belchior's goals kept the Portuguese in the game and his third strike - at 5-5 with just over four minutes left - proved decisive.
"Maybe we were a bit too confident," said Swiss star Noel Ott, who scored his side's last two goals. "We had many chances to score but we didn't."
Earlier, in a tense match that struggled to reach the high-octane level usually seen at Beach Soccer, underdogs Italy struck first through Emmanuele Zurlo's counter-attacking goal with three minutes left in the first period.
The world's no.5 team Spain had the better of the match, however, and finally equalised three minutes from time when star striker Llorenc Gomez found himself free in front of goal and calmly slotted the ball home.
With extra time ending goalless, the match went to penalties. Spanish goalkeeper Francisco Jesus Donaire saved Dario Ramacciotti's first attempt for Italy, and Spain converted their remaining two attempts to record a crucial first win.
"It started very well, scoring the first goal is an honour for me," Zurlo said. "Unfortunately it didn't end like we wanted. In the penalty shoot-out only the luckiest team wins."