Japan, Oman and Iran have secured berths at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna 2011 after claiming a top-three finish in Asian qualifying. The tournament was staged in Muscat, Oman with the host nation qualifying to the world stage for the first time. Japan and Iran are regulars at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, with the former taking home the continental crown on this occasion with a 2-1 win in the final against a highly-competitive Omani team.
The 11-nation competition took place over five days and also featured United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Indonesia, China, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Uzbekistan. The previous edition of the tournament included just seven teams, while this time around Syria, Iraq Kuwait and Indonesia were all making their continental debut on sand.
Quartet scrap for three tickets
United Arab Emirates went into the tournament as Asian Beach Games Champions, and having featured in three previous FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups, were heavily favoured to snap up one of three tickets to Ravenna when the last four schedule was completed following the knockout quarter-final stage. The UAE, like all in the last four, also had the insurance of potentially qualifying via the third-place play-off.
With World Cup qualification on the line, both semi-finals proved to be understandably tight and tense affairs, with Japan triumphing 2-1 over UAE in the first match-up. The second contest proved even tighter eventually being decided by penalties. Iran pegged back a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 before losing the shoot-out, much to the joy of a large and exuberant Omani crowd on hand at the Al Musannah Beach Stadium.
Iran may have missed claiming a semi-final win by the slimmest of margins but they weren’t about to let passage to Italy slip for a second time, with the Persians emphatically defeating UAE 6-2 in the third-place play-off. The final, meanwhile, ended in disappointment for the majority of the 3,000 fans on hand as Oman allowed Japan to come from behind and win with two goals during the third and final period.
Oman will take plenty of solace from their breakthrough achievement, however, and no-one more so than crowd favourite Yahya Al Oraimi, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Oman coach Taleb Hilal said: "It's a big achievement for Omani football. This achievement came after the efforts that the players put and they played a big role in reaching the World Cup for the first time. The tournament was really hard for us, especially the semi-final match against Iran. We managed to qualify to the World Cup and finish second despite the fatigue that hit the players as they didn't have any rest day during the tournament."