Mexico have not lived up to the expectations they created in finishing surprise runners-up at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Rio de Janeiro 2007, failing to advance from an admittedly tough group at Marseille 2008 and missing out altogether on a place at Dubai 2009.
Yet, judging by their display at the CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship, which came to a conclusion in the Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta on Sunday, El Tri look to be a force to be reckoned with once more.
Ramon Raya’s side took the title after beating the 2009 champions El Salvador in an exciting final, earning themselves a ticket to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Italy 2011 in the process.
Joining them there will be Los Cuscatlecos, who can take no little satisfaction from reaching the world finals for the second time running and from cementing their status as one of the region’s pre-eminent beach soccer powers.
La Selecta and El Tri then squared off in the final game of the section, with top spot at stake. And despite the enthusiastic support of the home fans packed into the Estadio Agustin Flores, the Mexicans were unable to get the better of the defending champions. Playing some spectacular beach soccer, El Salvador held the hosts to a 3-3 draw in normal time before silencing the crowd with a 1-0 win in the penalty decider.
The favourites to progress from the other section were Dubai 2009 qualifiers Costa Rica and long-time regional heavyweights USA. And once again the big two made it through to the semis, making short work of the challenge posed by the Bahamas and Guatemala.
The deciding game in the section also proved to be a tight affair, as Los Ticos scored twice late on to force a 3-3 draw and another penalty shootout, only for Yuri Morales’ well-placed spot-kick to give the Americans victory and first place in the pool. USA’s reward was a semi-final against Mexico, while the Costa Ricans took on El Salvador.
No shortage of passion
It was the Central American duo who took to the sand first, with Los Ticos surging into a 2-0 lead only for El Salvador to restore parity before the end of the first period. A wonder strike by goalkeeper Claudio Adanis put the Costa Ricans in front again before La Selecta equalised for the second time in the game.
Despite numerous chances at both ends there were no further goals, which meant yet another shootout. Walter Torres and Agustin Ruiz were on target for El Salvador, with Jeffren Chavarria’s miss handing them a place in the final and in next year’s global showpiece in Italy.
Then it was time for Mexico and USA to renew their old rivalry in a match that did not disappoint. Morgan Plata, a veteran of the 2007 Mexico side, put the hosts ahead after 39 seconds, with Oscar Gil eventually pulling the Americans level in the second period.
Chances came and went at both ends in the third period and, not surprisingly, another penalty decider was required. Franz Torres fired the Mexicans in front, with Morales striking the post for the Americans to give the hosts safe passage to the final and Italy 2011.
The Stars and Stripes would gain some consolation by beating Costa Rica 7-5 in the match for third place, the prelude to a thrilling final, in which El Salvador surged into a 3-0 lead. El Tri stormed back with five unanswered goals of their own – four of them from Antonio Barbosa – to win their second CONCACAF title in three years and send the home fans wild.
What they said
“I’d like to thank all the people who’ve supported this team. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to be able to say, ‘Mission accomplished. We’re off to the World Cup’. This is one of the happiest moments of my career and I want to share it with all my players. They deserve it,” Ramon Raya, Mexico coach.
*Qualified for Rome 2011