The anticipation and excitement is building in the Bahamas, as the archipelago nation prepares to host this year’s FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in a little over two months’ time.
Fifteen teams will join the hosts for the ninth edition of the Beach Soccer World Cup, with the competition to make its maiden appearance in the Caribbean from 27 April to 7 May. It is sure to be a memorable sporting occasion for the Bahamas and members of the host team.
“The World Cup is very special,” Bahamas captain Gavin Christie told FIFA.com. “It’s probably one of the largest sporting events that has ever been on the shores of the Bahamas, so for us as beach football players, it’s very special. It’s the event you dream about as a kid. To have it here on our doorstep, it means a lot to us, but it also means a lot to the country as well.”
Keen to make a positive impression as hosts, the Bahamas turned to beach soccer’s most decorated coach in Alexandre Soares to lead the tournament debutants this spring. Soares knows all about succeeding at beach soccer’s showpiece event, having led his native Brazil to all four of their Beach Soccer World Cup titles from 2006 to 2009. With his current side, preparations have included recent friendly matches against Mexico and Argentina in South America.
“It was a nice opportunity for us and a good experience for everybody,” said the 50-year-old, who will be making his sixth Beach Soccer World Cup coaching appearance at Bahamas 2017. “The importance was the experience of those games. Our players need to play because the problem here in the Caribbean islands is [teams like Bahamas] not playing enough tournaments or games.”
The recent trip to South America followed a six-week training camp in Switzerland last summer, making for a busy few months for the Bahamians. Yet, this week’s hosting of the CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship is seen as a crucial building block for Christie and his team-mates, as they look to fine tune their preparations for the main event.
“The CONCACAF qualifiers are very important for us because the one thing we lack is high-level competitive matches and this allows us to play a minimum of six of those,” he said. “We’re taking it very seriously and we look to do the best that we can.”
More beach soccer events are going to be held here, which will allow us to play and develop a lot more.
Seen as a dress rehearsal for Bahamas 2017, with matches to be played from 20 to 26 February in the new beach soccer stadium built in the country’s capital Nassau, hosts Bahamas are in Group A with Belize, Guyana and Jamaica. It is one of four groups drawn for the 16-team CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championship, with the top two finishers from each group advancing to the quarter-finals. The eventual semi-final winners will earn CONCACAF’s two qualifying spots and a return ticket to the Bahamas in April. Should the hosts make the final, the next best-placed team in the CONCACAF qualifiers will reach the Beach Soccer World Cup.
Soares pointed to two central American sides as his favourites to join the Bahamas at the big tournament. “In the CONCACAF area, El Salvador and Costa Rica are very good teams,” he said. “Mexico has lots of experience, while the USA and Trinidad and Tobago have very good players as well. However, I think El Salvador and Costa Rica are the powers in the region.”
Taking the next step
Ranked fifth in CONCACAF and 56th in the world, the Bahamas are looking at 2017 as the year that will put their nation on the beach soccer map. With the exception of Lesley St. Fleur, who plays the non-beach version professionally with Jamaican club Montego Bay United, Soares’s side consists of amateur players that train in the evenings after a day’s work.
The Brazilian tactician’s current job has been improving the team’s tactical awareness. “Our team has the characteristic to attack, but we are trying to be more tactical as a team,” Soares said. “Our players have good technique and big potential, but now, we need to improve in the tactical and physical aspect of our game.”
As they prepare to face the world’s best, Christie believes hosting the Beach Soccer World Cup will help the Bahamas reach new heights in the game on sand. “Now we have a professional-standard stadium, more teams will be willing to come and play in the Bahamas,” he said. “More beach soccer events are going to be held here, which will allow us to play and develop a lot more.”