Dejan Stankovic has every reason to be enthusiastic about the upcoming FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2011, which kicks off in Ravenna, Italy, this Thursday. The Swiss international boasts an impressive record in the competition after scoring 16 goals en route to the final of the 2009 edition in Dubai, where he claimed the adidas Golden Boot as top scorer, as well as the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament's best player.
"We're in good spirits and good form," the technically-adroit attacker revealed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "We've been training hard five or six times a week recently, so we're ready. I can hardly wait for it to finally start."
After finishing as runners-up two years ago, Switzerland are rightly considered among the favourites ahead of the tournament's sixth edition. "Obviously we have a lot to live up to," said Stankovic, who is less concerned about his own individual performances than those of the team. "The team is the only thing that matters, not personal success. We've set our target, to reach the semi-finals. If we can achieve that, I'll be happy."
First the Swiss must make sure they survive the group stage, in which they have been drawn alongside Senegal, Iran and hosts Italy. "A lot of people see us as favourites on paper, but it's not as simple as that," warned the front man. "Senegal are the reigning African champions. We don't know them that well, but they're physically very strong and they'll be difficult opponents. It's going to be anything but easy against Iran, even less so against Italy. It's always tough to play against the hosts."
'Home advantage' and a famous namesake
Stankovic will himself be able to enjoy at least some form of 'home advantage'. The forward, who recently celebrated his 26th birthday, has been playing in Italy for three years and won the national championship last season with his club Feragnoli Terracina. "I'm very happy here. It's a lot of fun playing in Italy. I know the sand here, it suits me and my style of play."
Dejan Stankovic has made a real name for himself with his breathtaking moves and spectacular goals over the past few years, leading to inevitable comparisons between him and his famous namesake, who stars for Serbia and Inter Milan. "I always get asked whether we're related, but it's pure coincidence we have the same name. I've never even met him," he said as our interview drew to a close.
And who is the better of the two? "I'm good at my sport and he's good at his. I'm probably the better player on sand, but on grass it's the other way round."