On Sunday evening at the Stadio del Mare in Ravenna, history was made as a rampant Russian side outclassed four-time world champions Brazil to claim their first global beach soccer crown. Although the Brazilians’ rocky route to the final had contrasted markedly with the slick trail blazed by the east Europeans, few had foreseen how calmly and efficiently Likhachev’s men would go about dismantling the South Americans’ defences. In particular Canarinha coach Alexandre Soares was left aghast as his players found themselves chasing a game they had expected to lead from the outset.
Russia’s collective supremacy was matched by their success at individual level, with captain Ilya Leonov and Andrey Bukhlitsky picking up the awards for best player and best goalkeeper respectively. The machine-like efficiency of the team is based on clockwork consistency and physical strength, according to one of their key assets, winger Dmitry Shishin: "It’s an immense joy and a great feeling to win our first World Cup,” explained the wide man. “Our aim in preparation was to make the compactness of our team our secret weapon. But gradually we came to realise that our link-up combinations, which we learned through intensive and rigorous training routines, gave us something extra. They put each one of us into a position where we could score, and not just the forwards. I believe this was the decisive factor in our success in the final.”
We showed that we have a very attack-minded game. Being compact doesn’t mean shutting up shop.
This well-oiled machine is not only well-coordinated and synchronised but also incisive going forward, explains Shishin. "We showed that we have a very attack-minded game,” said the 25-year-old. “Being compact doesn’t mean shutting up shop. Even if we defended magnificently tonight against Brazil, we love playing our own style of beach soccer."
Shishin himself is a shining example of the type of athlete moulded by Likhachev, an exponent of the Dutch ‘total football’ approach. A complete player, he is capable of defending doggedly but also attacking to great effect. The winger netted seven goals during the campaign, a tally matched by two of his team-mates, defender Leonov and Egor Eremeev, while top-scorer Egor Shaykov finished with nine goals.
This array of offensive options helped Russia score 44 goals during the campaign, more than any other side in the tournament. Nevertheless Eremeev insists that not every goal came easy: "It might seem that way but in fact it was difficult to play against Brazil,” he said, ”just as it was in the other matches. Although we have great faith in our abilities and we got the results in the end, in beach soccer you can’t take anything for granted. Even so I have to say that at the end of the day we were the best team."
Another key to Russia’s success is targeted training in every aspect of the game, according to Eremeev. "Just by training intensively we were able to fine-tune winning formations,” explained the forward. “Everyone always knows their job. Individually, perhaps the Brazilian players are better than us but as a team, on the whole we did better than them."
Paying tribute to the winning side, Brazil coach Soares spoke of the emergence of a new world power in beach soccer. So how does it feel to join the world’s elite? "For us this has been an incredible year, after the victory in the Superfinal in August and now here in Ravenna,” concluded Eremeev, insisting that this is just the beginning for Russian beach soccer. “It won’t be easy to repeat but sure, our aim is to get on a roll and win everything possible in the next few years. We’re a young team and we can improve further, we’re not yet at out peak."