Surprise package Belarus earned qualification for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup for the first time today.
Having yesterday secured a shock win over top seeds and world number two-ranked Portugal in the first of their second group stage matches at the UEFA qualifier in Moscow, Belarus today grabbed victory over world number six-ranked Italy on penalties.
That, allied to Portugal’s win over Poland at the Luzhniki Park venue, means Belarus are guaranteed to finish in the top two qualifying places for the World Cup in their final group no matter what happens in their final group match against Poland.
Belarus also now look favourites to reach the final of the qualifier, with Russia, 6-0 winners over Azerbaijan today, on course to play them there as they head the other group.
Italy led 3-1 with two minutes left against Belarus, but Dzianis Samsonov pulled a goal back and with a second to go, Ilya Savich equalised.
No more goals arrived in extra-time, so the match moved to penalties, with one point at stake for the winner.
Belarus scored all three of their penalties to take advantage of Emanuele Zurlo’s failure to convert the third Italian effort.
Portugal now meet Italy in the final group match, with both teams on three points and the former leading by a superior goal difference following their 8-3 win today.
In the final match of the night, Switzerland kept alive their hopes of qualification with a 9-6 win over Spain.