It goes without saying that Germany are among the powerhouses of international football. Their credentials are compelling: after all, in the last two months they have clinched their fourth FIFA World Cup™ and their third U-20 Women's World Cup crown.
On sand, though, Die Nationalmannschaft have often struggled to find their feet. However, changes are now afoot. A major milestone came in mid-August when the country's beach football team competed against the elite in the Euro Beach Soccer League Superfinal.
Granted, the Germans finished last out of the eight teams involved, but reaching the showpiece was an achievement in itself. Strikingly, considering the country's clout in other forms of the game, the side are made up entirely of amateurs and qualified for the competition in just their second campaign in the regular-season top flight, Division A.
As such, despite some chastening results in the continental finals, the team are not surrendering their dream of featuring in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015.
Charting the upturn
After several years in the shadows, what are the keys to this recent improvement? "Passion, ambition and clear goals," Germany's coach, Nils Boringschulte, cheerily told FIFA.com. "Ever since I started playing beach soccer back in 2003, my aim has always been to rub shoulders with the best in Europe.
"If you don't have the right attitude, you'll never achieve any goals," added the 33-year-old, who was a youth player at Schalke before being bitten by the beach football bug while completing his university studies.
"As for passion and ambition, I try to harness these qualities so that the players don't lose sight of why they're playing beach soccer. Everyone in the squad has a 'day job' or studies, so attending training sessions, matches and tournaments isn't easy.
"We train on small pitches, sleep at gyms and dig into our own pockets [to play]; some people have to travel 600 kilometres to take part," revealed the Cologne-based Boringschulte, who works for eight-to-ten hours a day in marketing, events and sales for an energy drink brand. "We even give up our holidays to wear the Germany shirt."
We know how tough it's going to be, but if I were going there thinking we had no chance, I'd rather stay at home.
Other factors have also played a pivotal role. "2012 was a watershed year," the former international explained. "On the one hand, it stopped being a solo operation and responsibilities were divided up.
"On the other hand, we began casting the net wider for players: from a single region, we went nationwide by rolling out training camps. That's also when we teamed up with the German Football Association [DFB].
"Then the league was set up in 2013. The plan was for every member of the national team to form a side. We had eight competing in the first season, while this past year, our second, featured 12. With the DFB's support, the idea is to expand to 16 teams and to gradually make the set-up more professional. Competition is crucial in order to keep developing."
Sights set on the world stage
During the Euro League regular season, Germany defeated historic rivals Italy on penalties and thrashed up-and-coming Poland 4-0. These were encouraging signs, although Boringschulte is keeping his feet on the ground, especially in light of their return in the Superfinal where they failed to register a single point.
"Nobody expected us to break into the top eight in Europe so soon, but we know there's a gulf between us and the big guns," he acknowledged. "To beat them, we still need them to have an off day and for us to put in an exceptional performance."
Nevertheless, the coach remains hugely hopeful of making it to Portugal 2015 for what would be Germany's first appearance on the world stage. Four World Cup spots are up for grabs at the European qualifying tournament in Italy, which kicks off on 6 September.
The Germans have never got beyond the first round in qualifying, but will fancy their chances in Group E. Though they have been paired with the mighty Ukraine, who edged them 8-6 in the Superfinal, Latvia and Norway are, on paper, easier opponents. Even third place in the group could be enough to reach the second phase, in which the 16 survivors will again be broken up into four-team groups. Each second-round group winner will then go through to the semi-finals – and secure a place in Portugal.
"We know how tough it's going to be, but if I were going there thinking we had no chance, I'd rather stay at home," the ever-upbeat Boringschulte stressed. "I'm convinced that we'll give everything, spurred on by the pride of wearing the national-team shirt. I don't know if that'll be enough, but it's all part of the learning curve. I'm extremely optimistic about the future of beach soccer in Germany."