Ultimately, this FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup produced the same outcome as two years ago in Ravenna, with Russia retaining their crown. Tahiti 2013, however, will be remembered for numerous reasons, all of them positive.
It was, first and foremost, a milestone moment for Oceanian football, with the tournament being the inaugural FIFA event conducted in a Pacific Island nation. Tahiti, to its lasting credit, delivered a hugely successful and smoothly run event backed by sell-out crowds on each matchday. Tahiti also set a new high watermark on the pitch, with the Tiki Toa becoming the only current OFC member to reach the semi-finals of a FIFA tournament.
Though the record books will show Russia were again victors, they were pushed all the way throughout the tournament. Twice they had single-goal victories, while they trailed Tahiti with three minutes remaining of a momentous semi-final. Perhaps empowered by their victory two years ago, there was a sense that winning the tournament was always very much in Russia’s grasp. Dmitrii Shishin’s last-gasp goal in the final secured him the adidas Golden Scorer at the expense of Brazil’s Bruno Xavier, and perhaps was evidence that the stars were aligned for Russia.
Spain returned to the world stage after a five-year absence in style, perhaps proving Europe’s strength in depth. Though they lost heavily in the final, the Iberians impressed en route, winning all their group matches.
Brazil, representing the spiritual home of beach soccer, will be disappointed with third, having missed the final for the first time since 2005. However the four-time winners can take solace in Bruno Xavier being named the adidas Golden Ball winner.
It was, however, Tahiti that were the darlings of both the local and international audience. Playing with flair and verve, the Tiki Toa would not have been out of place on the winners’ dais. Under renowned Swiss coach Angelo Schirinzi, they stunned South American champions Argentina with a remarkable 6-1 quarter-final scoreline, led Russia until the dying minutes, and took Brazil to penalties.
Global feel, tight margins
Tahiti 2013 proved that beach soccer is a discipline in which the traditional lesser lights can shine. Solomon Islands were in touching of making it a unique Oceania double in the knockout stage, while El Salvador - led by the dynamic shooting of adidas Bronze Scorer Agustin Ruiz - were worthy quarter-finalists.
Tight and competitive matches were a recurring theme throughout the tournament, and numerous matches were ultimately decided by the vagaries of the sand-based game. And the scope for further growth in many corners of the globe is enormous. “We have huge potential to be a dominant team in beach soccer,” USA coach Eddie Soto told FIFA.com. “I have been in this sport for 20 years and it is an ideal sport for America.”
Elsewhere, the on-pitch action was noteworthy for an increased level of team structure and tactical sophistication. “Nowadays everyone has a tactical system,” said Technical Study Group member Ramon Raya. “They know all about the opponents, know where their weak spots are and how to defend themselves.”
Fair Play Trophy
1 - Russia
2 - Spain
3 - Brazil
4 - Tahiti
5 - Argentina
6 - El Salvador
7 - Japan
8 - Iran
9 - Paraguay
10 - USA
11 - Solomon Islands
12 - Ukraine
13 - Senegal
14 - Netherlands
15 - United Arab Emirates
16 - Côte d'Ivoire