With just three months to go before the South American qualifying event for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011, reigning world champions Brazil underlined their favourites’ status by winning the Beach Soccer Worldwide Miami Cup – a four-team international competition held on the sands of South Beach between 30 April and 1 May.
Led by the experienced trio of Buru, Andre and Benjamin, A Seleção were pushed all the way in their 3-1 defeat of Mexico in the last match of the round-robin tournament, a game which was a repeat of the sides’ meeting in the final of Rio de Janeiro 2007. “We’ve proved once more that we’re in good shape, by beating a great side who gave us a really tough game,” said Brazil coach Alexandre Soares, after the trophy presentation. “We knew that it was going to be no easy task, but the lads have proved their class again here. It was our experience that made the difference: we were able to keep calm during the key moments.”
Four-time FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup winners, with Dubai 2009 their most recent conquest, Brazil will nevertheless still have to negotiate South American qualifying to earn the opportunity to defend their crown. “This tournament has helped us tweak a few things. We mustn’t leave anything to chance if we want to avoid getting caught out,” said Andre, his team’s five-goal top scorer in Miami, with regard to CONMEBOL qualifying - to be held in Rio between 31 July and 7 August and which offers three passages to Ravenna/Italy 2011.
Lessons to be learned
They may have fallen short in December 2010’s CONCACAF qualifying tournament for Ravenna/Italy 2011, and will thus miss out on a third consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, but USA will take some consolation from coming second in Miami. Indeed, the Stars and Stripes finished ahead of neighbours and regional champions Mexico, who are set to represent CONCACAF in September’s showpiece, alongside El Salvador. The host nation had a thrilling victory in their opening game to thank, when they sank El Tri 7-6 after overturning a 5-2 deficit, with Perera grabbing the winner in the dying seconds.
“We’ve got a new squad and we’ve made a good start. This is just the beginning,” said Brazil-born Giovanni Garcia, who along with Perera is one of the new faces in the USA squad. “We’re pleased because we’re continuing to plant strong roots for beach soccer in the United States,” added the experienced Francis Farberoff, scorer of his side’s penalty shoot-out winner in their last match against Spain and a member of the US side that travelled to Rio 2007.
Coming in third were Mexico, who would surely have expected more after triumphing at December’s aforementioned CONCACAF event in Puerto Vallarta. Indeed, though they bounced back from defeat against the USA with an emphatic win against Spain, the mighty Brazil proved too strong despite a fine display by Los Aztecas.
“To hold our own as well as we did against the best team in the world deserves a lot of respect,” said Mexico coach Ramon Raya. “We paid the price for the mistakes we made in our first match and ended up finishing third, when second place should’ve been ours. But we never give up.”
Raya, who masterminded Mexico’s run to the final at Rio 2007, will be boosted by the form of Morgan Plata, winner of the adidas Silver Shoe and Bronze Ball four years ago, who struck five goals in Miami. “At this level, whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins. It’s all been useful for our pre-World Cup preparations,” said another of El Tri’s key men, Ricardo Villalobos.
Spain, meanwhile, are feeling the effects of a radical squad overhaul and will miss out on this September’s Italian showpiece – their first failure to reach a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Led by veteran performers Nico and Javi Torres, La Roja pushed Brazil hard in their opener, only to lose heavily against Mexico and then be edged out on penalties by the USA.
“We need to click better in our upcoming tournaments, if not it’ll be an uphill struggle,” said Miguel, one of a clutch of new players in the Spanish squad. “How do I rate our chances at the European championship? Spain are always among the favourites, but it’s the small details that prove decisive in tournaments, and those only come with time and games. That’s why we all need to keep working hard.”