The seaside Italian village of Bibone played host to the European qualifying tournament for this year’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. No fewer than 27 national teams contested the four tickets on offer to the beach showpiece, which will take place in Ravenna, Italy from 1 to 11 September 2011.

The big and boisterous crowds that attended the event were treated to 57 official matches, with Ukraine lifting the title in the end. The East Europeans will be joined at the global showpiece by fellow qualifiers Portugal, Switzerland and Russia, who all put in strong performances. Nearly 82,000 spectators turned up to watch the event, and over the eight days of competition, they were treated to high levels of excitement and drama. Tension, spectacular moves, saves and excellent beach soccer were on display in the Italian sand.

After an even and competitive group stage, 16 of the original 27 teams made their way to the knockout rounds. A heated round of 16 ended the hopes of Estonia, Netherlands, Greece, France, Azerbaijan, Turkey and newcomers Moldova, and left Spain, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Switzerland, Portugal, Romania and Poland still standing. When the semi-final stage rolled around, only Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland and Portugal were left standing.

Having already reached the World Cup, none of the four teams were content to rest on their laurels as they all went hammer-and-tongs at the European title. Ukraine required a breath-taking penalty shootout to best Switzerland in their last-four contest, while Portuguese stars Belchior and Madjer led the way to a 6-5 win over Russia.

In the final, the Ukrainians put the pressure on Portugal immediately. They carved out an early 3-0 lead to make a steep hill to climb for Madjer and Co. The Lusitanians gave it their all, but could only climb back to 4-2 when the final whistle sounded. In the play-off for third-place, Russia beat the Swiss 4-2 and confirmed their status as an up-and-coming force on sand.

Portugal’s stars Madjer and Graça finished top scorer and best goalkeeper, respectively, while Ilya Leonov, the Russian captain, was named the tournament’s best player, a trophy he had previously lifted at the last FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup European Qualifier in Catsellon (Spain).