With the formalities now over and the draw finalized, the seven nations competing in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2009 Qualifier Dubai, 7-11 November, can now begin preparing for their first group match on Saturday afternoon at Jumeriah Beach, Umm Suqeim.
The team seeded number one, Japan, has been pitted against 2006 Asian Champions Bahrain and Uzbekistan in Group A, while an inexperienced Australian team will be tested when it faces Iran, China and Oman in Group B. The draw was held earlier today at the Zabeel Hall at the Dubai Sports Council in front of dozens of spectators, including the Australian and Oman squads, as well as delegates from the Japanese team.
Among the special guests were Salah Tahlak, LOC Tournament Director, FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009; Joan Cusco, FIFA Beach Soccer General Manager; and United Arab Emirates Head Coach Marcelo Mendes, whose team will play two friendly matches during the qualifier against the resting team in Group A. Eric Cantona's French team will play the third friendly match on 9 November.
Because Group A has only three teams, during the group phase one team at a time will be resting. To ensure that all the teams play an equal number of matches during the group phase, friendly matches have been scheduled for the resting teams. These three friendly matches will not count in the final Group A standings.
The top two nations in each group will progress to the semi-final. The two finalists will then represent the region at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009. The winner from Asia 1 will face Spain, Côte d'Ivoire and El Salvador in the group stage, while Asia 2 has the tough task of taking on the current world champions, Brazil, as well as Nigeria and Switzerland in Group D.
Although Australia took part in the inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Brazil in 2005, this is the first time the team from down under has competed in a Beach Soccer qualifier. In fact, the Australian team has never played together competitively. It was pulled together in a short time and given a crash-course in playing Beach Soccer. Five members of the team played at Rio de Janeiro 2005, while the rest of the players come from New South Wales and South Australian football clubs.
"We didn't have the chance to play any competitive matches before we came here," said Australian coach Airton Andrioli. "Because we don't play beach football competitively in Australia, what we did, we went all over Australia and selected players who we felt could adapt to beach football. After we finalized the team, we went to a few camps in which we explained the rules. We didn't have the chance to play any games so far."
The Australian team has managed to organize two friendly matches, one against Nigeria this afternoon and the other on Wednesday against Bahrain, a team that shocked the Asian Beach Soccer community in 2006, when it won the Asian qualifier against Japan. Bahrain shares a similar story with Australia; in 2006 it had pulled a team together just for the tournament.
Joan Cusco says not to rule out the Aussies: "The first time Bahrain built a team, they came just like Australia, scouting players, making camps and building a team and they won the tournament in 2006." As a result, three players from that team went on to play for Bahrain's national football team.
"I have a good group of players here and have been working hard for the last few weeks and we're confident that we can qualify," Andrioli said during a press conference. Australia will play Iran in its first qualifier match on Saturday afternoon.
Oman coach Talib Al Thanawi believes his team is under pressure to qualify, after the team won the Beach Soccer title at the Asian Beach Games in Bali last year. However, this is the first time the team makes an appearance at a FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup qualifier. Oman takes on China in the first qualifying round on Saturday.