USA back with a bang as Salvadorans stride

USA picked up their third CONCACAF Beach Soccer championship at the weekend, joining second-placed El Salvador as the region’s representatives at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013. The Americans, who have not reached the world finals in three tries, look to be back on track after an impressive performance, while the Salvadorans’ great strides continue unabated.

The final game, played on Sunday at the Malcolm Park Beach Soccer and Futsal Facility in Nassau, Bahamas, was a tense affair, encapsulating the spirit and competition of the four-day tournament, hosted for the first time in the Caribbean. The Americans, coached by Eddie Soto, took a 3-2 lead in regular time, before being pegged back 4-4 by the stylish and high-flying Central Americans. The game then went to extra time, where the free-scoring Nick Perera turned hero for the Americans, bringing them their first CONCACAF title since 2007, the last year they took part in the world finals.

It wasn’t the first time that Perera, who plays for professional indoor soccer side Milwaukee Wave, proved the difference-maker. He scored three times in USA’s opening game, a 5-2 win over Guatemala. He grabbed two more in the 5-0 rout of tournament basement dwellers Puerto Rico and hit the net a further three times in a 9-2 win over hosts Bahamas to send the Americans through to the semi-finals. Against Costa Rica, with a place in the World Cup on the line, the States came from two goals down to beat the Ticos 4-3, veterans Francis Farberoff and Anthony Chimienti both getting on the scoresheet.

El Salvador, CONCACAF champions in 2009, found their way to the ultimate match in slightly less convincing fashion. They beat Jamaica and lost to Group C winners Costa Rica. Consistent standout and Bronze Ball and Boot winner at the 2011 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, Frank Velasquez, led the way with five goals in those games. The section contained only three teams and El Salvador and Jamaica met again to decide the wild-card berth for the semi-finals, a game the Salvadorans won with ease 8-4, Velasquez scoring two more goals. Needing to win by three clear goals to edge the Bahamians to the semis, the Salvadorans found themselves in the last-four, where they beat mighty Mexico - two-time CONCACAF Beach Soccer champions – in a classic contest.

Mexicans stunned, El Salvador stunning
Played at a frenetic pace in some sweltering heat, the two sides simply could not be separated at the final whistle, and then after extra time, forcing penalties after a goal-littered regular time. Herbert Ramos was the man of the hour for El Salvador, saving Ricardo Villalobos’ effort and allowing Walter Torres to put the Central Americans through to their fourth consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Led by the orchestrations of tournament top player Agustin Ruiz, El Salvador were well worthy of their place in the final.

Top-ranked Mexico, who eventually finished third, were expected to reach the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup for a fourth time. Ramon Raya’s men stormed through as winners of a three-team Group B (Guyana withdrew on the eve of the tournament), scoring 19 goals and conceding just one in wins over Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. In the end, though, the pluck and industry of the Salvadorans proved just a little too much for El Tri this time.

USA and El Salvador now join South American representatives Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, which will be played in September in Papeete, Tahiti. Asia’s representatives are Iran, UAE and Japan, while the Netherlands, Spain, Russia and Ukraine fly the banner for Europe and the Tahitians qualify automatically as hosts.

Final standings
1 USA*
2 El Salvador *
3 Mexico 
4 Costa Rica
5 Guatemala
6 Bahamas
7 Trinidad and Tobago
8 Canada
9 Jamaica
10 Puerto Rico
* Qualified for Tahiti 2013

Most Valuable Player
Agustin Ruiz (ELS)

Top Scorer
Nick Perera – 11 goals (USA)

Best goalkeeper
Chris Toth (USA)