On the first day of action in the African Zone qualifying event for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Ravenna/Italy 2011, which took place in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, those teams with a number of years’ experience in the sport were quick to make that advantage count. Indeed, the first round of matches in all three groups witnessed victories for countries already boasting some beach soccer pedigree.
Let us start with Senegal, an experienced national side that have been going toe-to-toe with the world’s finest beach soccer sides for years now – having already appeared at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups in 2008 and 2007, reaching the last eight at the latter event. Up against competition debutants Algeria in their Group C opener here in Casablanca, Senegal dispatched their opponents 9-4 thanks in large part to a hat-trick from the gigantic figure of Pape Jean Koukpaki. Completing the three-team section are Côte d’Ivoire.
Turning to Group B, and reigning African champions Nigeria were very nearly caught out by the speed and quality of competition newboys Madagascar. Trailing 3-2 at the start of the third period, the Nigerians struck back with goals from Tale, Shehu and Okemmiri to complete a 5-3 comeback win.
Hosts Morocco were also made to work hard for all three points in front of the home fans packing the Plage Ain Diab stadium. The side coached by Mustapha El Hadaoui were narrowly beating Group A rivals Libya 2-1 after two closely contested opening periods, only to cut loose and race into a 7-2 lead. Yet the Libyans did not let their heads drop, instead battling back to make the final score 7-5.
This qualifying tournament on the sands of Casablanca features nine national sides divided into three groups, with the winners of each section, plus the best second-placed team, progressing to the semi-finals. The two teams that reach the final will both be rewarded with a place at Ravenna/Italy 2011, which will take place between 1 and 11 September this year.