The final pieces of the Italy jigsaw are almost in place just days from the start of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, which will be held on home sands in Ravenna. Gli Azzurri emerged from the EBSL Superfinal 2011 in Moscow with more answers than questions, capping a lively campaign with a respectable fifth-placed finish thanks to victories over Switzerland and Spain, despite dropping their guard in a decisive defeat by powerhouses Portugal that denied them a place in the final.
Although a victory over the Iberians would have been good for morale, head coach Massimo Esposito at least received confirmation that, on the day, his charges are able to hold their own against all-comers. With his players almost ready for the global showcase, the coach demanded they now go the additional mile, saying: “We just have to produce that something extra that will enable us to reach our full potential.”
In terms of experience and technical ability, Italy are up there with the world’s elite. It is difficult to pick out a match in which La Nazionale were outplayed in any department. Yet to attain the level of perfection needed to win the world crown, the issue of concentration is still to be addressed. Alarm bells started ringing in the loss to the Lusitanians in Moscow, when the boys in blue immediately found themselves trailing by two goals, the first straight from the kick-off. Although the fightback failed to produce the desired result, it showed Esposito that in terms of shape and technique at least, there is little left to work on.
The Italians went on to finish the campaign on a high, routing Spain 5-0 in the match for fifth place and giving their coach further cause for optimism: “This match proves that when we concentrate and don’t switch off, we can beat anyone. We have to work on avoiding the highs and lows. Against Spain we got stuck in straight away and never got distracted. I want to see this sense of purpose and fighting mentality all the time."
Esposito gleaned some important answers from the EBSL Superfinal, the last major tournament before the hotly anticipated FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup takes place from 1 to 11 September. “After Moscow I have more certainties than doubts, and that’s plenty to be going on with," he said.
"We have another few weeks to iron out certain flaws. Technically and tactically we’re in good shape, I still have to work on the mental side because I don’t want to see any more carelessness. The team is in place, everything is set for us to have a good World Cup.”
Indeed the squad is all but finalised despite the absence of proven goal-poacher Pasquale Carotenuto, who is preventing from taking part in the finals by red tape. That hole has already been filled by Giuseppe Soria, second-top scorer in Moscow with six goals, including a sensational hat-trick against Spain. Other players whose squad place is all but guaranteed are the ever-reliable Simone Feudi in midfield, no-nonsense captain Michele Leghissa in defence, and the two custodians Stefano Spada and Simone Del Mestre, themselves capable of chipping in with a goal when needed.
Reaching for the sky
Although former Azzurri playmaker Massimo Esposito is no stranger to the demands of the international showpiece, he is not afraid to talk up his side’s chances: “We know that it’s going to be very difficult, but if I had to name my favourites for the title in Ravenna, without tempting fate I would still say Italy. We are playing at home, we have everything we need to do well. Yes the competition is fierce - Brazil, Portugal and of course Russia and Switzerland are very strong teams - but we don’t fear anyone. The key is to only look as far ahead as the next match, then we’ll see”.
The event is the pinnacle of the sport and Esposito knows that every opponent will be motivated and ready for a battle: “Our group is tough because Senegal, like all African sides, have some outstanding individuals and never stop running. Even Iran have shown themselves to be a tight unit and shouldn’t be taken lightly, while Switzerland will play their usual game.”
Nevertheless the Azzurri tactician believes the sky is the limit, provided his charges can rise to the challenge. “If my lads manage to give that bit extra then we can really set our sights high.”