With just five weeks to go until the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013, reigning world champions Russia gave notice of intent with victory in Sunday's 2013 edition of the Euro Beach Soccer League.
The event has brought together the best teams in Europe every summer since 1998, with this year's starting field comprising 24 nations divided into two groups. The top 12 teams competed for places in the final in preliminary Group A, with the Group B nations fighting it out for promotion to next year's top flight.
In 2013, each team had to contest two of the five eliminators in Ukraine, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Russia. Points gained at the tournaments are added up to determine the participants in the final, which took place last weekend.
Disappointment for Ukraine
The eight-team battle for the European crown in the Spanish resort of Torredembarra included four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup hopefuls in Spain, Russia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.
The Ukrainians were drawn into Group B with easier opponents on paper, but on the picturesque beach in the north-east of Spain, the eastern Europeans finished bottom of their the section after a 3-1 defeat to Poland and a 6-5 reverse against holders Switzerland, with only one victory, a 2-1 success against Portugal.
The tension and excitement was greater in Group A, as it contained not only three FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup participants, but also reigning world champions Russia and European champions Spain. The Netherlands and Italy completed the section.
The Russians beat the Spanish 4-2 and the Dutch 5-4, but fell to the Italians 6-5 after extra time. The Spaniards defeated the Squadra Azzurra 5-3 and the men in orange 5-2, meaning top spot ultimately came down to the head-to-head comparison.
In the final between the group winners, Russia stormed to an 8-3 victory against Portugal, claiming a third Euro Beach Soccer League title after previous triumphs in 2009 and 2011. In a reprise of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Ravenna two years ago, Ilya Leonov of Russia was named best player at the tournament. The Swiss took the bronze medal with a 4-1 success in the match for third place against Spain, although there was minor consolation for the hosts when Dona was named best goalkeeper.
Champions Russia and Spain, who remain the most successful team in tournament history, can be reasonably satisfied with the outcome, but the Ukrainians and the Dutch have cause for concern. The eastern Europeans comfortably took seventh place with a prestige 4-0 victory in the head-to-head between the two, but there is no escaping the fact that the two Tahiti 2013 hopefuls occupied the last two places in the European skirmish.
Fortunately for the pair, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup does not start until 18 September, and the Dutch will seek solace in the proverbial wisdom that a bad dress rehearsal often precedes a successful first night. The whole episode adds yet more spice to the Netherlands’ maiden appearance at the global showdown.
Final standings at the Euro Beach Soccer League Super Final 2013
Best player: Ilya Leonov (Russia)
Top scorer: Dejan Stankovic (Switzerland)
Best goalkeeper: Dona (Spain)