Not every coach reacts to an 8-3 defeat with a broad smile. Then again not every coach is Talib Al Thanawi, who had just seen his Oman side come off second best to Portugal but was delighted for the opportunity to test his charges against one of the best teams in the world.
“It’s one thing to play in Asia and quite another to play here, at the very highest level,” he told FIFA.com after his charges had fallen to their third defeat in three games, bringing their debut appearance at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup to an end at the first hurdle. “I can safely say that the team have learned so much during the course of the tournament and that’s why I’m a happy man, in spite of the three defeats.”
For the departing Omanis, just reaching Ravenna/Italy 2011 has been an achievement in itself. The Middle Eastern nation only set up its beach soccer program four years ago, putting into perspective their efforts in finishing second behind Japan in the Asian qualifying competition in Muscat in February.
It was like an intensive training course and all this is completely new to us.
The new boys can take plenty of heart from their displays in Italy. Taking the lead against habitual world-finals qualifiers Argentina in their opening game, they eventually went down 3-1 before losing by the odd goal in seven against El Salvador, who are playing in their third FIFA Beach Soccer world finals. Then came the Portuguese masterclass, an opportunity to see, at first hand, beach soccer at its very best.
“It’s amazing to get a feel of how professional these big teams are,” said an admiring Al Thanawi. “The pressure they put you under and the pace they play at is totally different. Great teams with bags of experience like Brazil and Portugal force you to make mistakes and then they capitalise on them. Tactically they’re very focused and disciplined too. It was like an intensive training course and all this is completely new to us.”
Having had a taste of the high life, albeit a painful one, the Omanis now want more, as their eager coach confirmed: “Our job now is to take all this knowledge home with us, work hard and prepare ourselves better, and then fight for a place at Tahiti 2013.”