Considering the town of Torredembarra has a population of just 16,000 inhabitants, the European Beach Soccer League Superfinal was a huge event. That was not only due to the fact that hosts Spain lived up to expectations and reached the title-decider, but also because a local player was a member of their side.
Llorenc Gomez has only been playing the sport for less than four years, having been introduced to it while recovering from a knee injury. Nowadays he stands both as a symbol of the re-emergence of beach soccer in his homeland and as one of the emerging stars of the game itself.
The 22-year-old attacker was outstanding at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013, where he was an integral part of the side that finished as runners-up. In Torredembarra he once again showcased his ability, despite the added pressure that comes with playing in front of a home crowd. “Before any competition I like to prepare myself psychologically,” Llorenc told FIFA.com. “This time around I received a lot of messages from people saying they were eager to watch me and telling me what they expected of me…For a moment I thought it could all become too much.”
“The most incredible thing is that even former colleagues who I hadn’t been in touch with for years contacted me,” he continued. “It wasn’t easy for me because I never imagined that playing beach soccer would give me that kind of popularity in the town where I’ve been living since I was seven years old. It was an indescribable feeling to arrive at the stadium and see people shouting my name in the stands, to see my family and friends, especially in the final against Russia, who had beaten us in the World Cup final. Luckily I was able to turn all that into something positive and it ended up giving me a boost.”
That much is certainly true, as Llorenc netted a brace in the title-decider to finish as the tournament’s joint top scorer. Unfortunately for him he shared the honour with Anatoliy Peremitin, who grabbed the decisive goal in Russia’s 5-4 victory as they narrowly edged Spain to glory once again.
Asked whether Russia had become a bogey team for La Roja, Llorenc was unequivocal in his response: “Not at all. They’re not a bogey team and we didn’t get stage fright or anything like that. For example, Switzerland beat us 8-3 in the regular season of this league but we beat them 8-2 in the Superfinal. If you compare [the defeat in the final] to our 5-1 loss to Russia in Tahiti, where I believe we needed another day of rest to be in top shape physically, then we’ve taken a step forward. This time we just needed a little bit of luck.”
Spain have won the European Beach Soccer League title more often than any other nation, but the last of their five triumphs was back in 2006 and Llorenc is determined not to live off past glories: “Spain went through a wonderful phase but we’ve only recently managed to bring in a new crop of players. Therefore we need to play in a few more competitions and spend a bit more time together out on the sand. We’re playing at a high level, higher in fact than we were at in Tahiti. I doubt much more time will pass before we have something to celebrate.”
Among Spain’s next fixtures are the European qualifiers for the Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015, to be played in Jesolo, Italy, between 5-14 September. Only four places at the global showdown are on offer at the tournament, where any slip-ups are likely to be punished. Portugal and Switzerland, two strong sides in their own right, found that out first-hand in recent years, with both missing out on qualification for Tahiti 2013.
“It’s true that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to qualify for a World Cup,” Llorenc said. “When I started playing there were three or four national sides that dominated and although the rest of the teams put up a fight you could beat them if you had a good spell during a game. Today every team makes life difficult: sides like Belarus and Ukraine, for example, are technically, tactically and physically far better than they used to be. That creates an all-round improvement in the game and forces you to develop as an individual and as a team. We’re confident of being able to qualify because not doing so would be a step backwards.”
Results aside, Llorenc has earned his reputation in beach soccer and is held in high regard. Nevertheless, his fame does not sit easy with him and even in his beloved Torredembarra he is stopped in the street and asked for autographs. “I keep working hard so that all this can continue and that nobody feels let down,” he concluded. “But above all I want to be satisfied with myself, and that’s the most important thing.”