The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2011 at Stadio del Mare in Ravenna on the picturesque Italian Adriatic coast promises an intoxicating mixture of sun, sea, sand, and a spectacular show. And on the very first day, the sixth edition of the tournament features a clutch of intriguing clashes and the potential for highly entertaining beach soccer.
Game of the day
Italy–Iran, Group A, 18.30 (local time)
The hosts’ first appearance is the most eagerly-anticipated match of the day, as this time around, the Italians are determined to go one better than 2008, when they finished runners-up. Gli Azzurri can count on the raucous support of the home faithful and the vast experience of coach Massimiliano Esposito, who featured at the 2008 and 2009 tournaments as a player. The pre-match odds certainly favour the Italians, with Iran having contested the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup three times in the past, but having won only one of their nine games.
The other match in Group A pits 2009 runners-up Switzerland against African champions Senegal. After their explosive debut at the Dubai event two years ago, the Swiss go into the 2011 edition as a good outside bet for honours, but the powerful Senegalese represent a tough opening hurdle. The Teranga Lions have now claimed the African continental crown twice, and boast five wins from their six matches in the group stages at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup to date.
The Group B programme opens with the meeting between Argentina and Oman. The South Americans are one of only four teams to have contested every FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup so far, but boss Hector Petrasso’s troops have yet to progress further than the quarter-finals. Nevertheless, Argentinian experience could be a decisive factor against debutants Oman, as the only previous time a side from the Sultanate has qualified for a FIFA tournament was the FIFA U-17 World Cup back in 1995.
El Salvador take on Portugal in the second Group B fixture. The Europeans start as favourites, as the Central Americans have yet to win in two previous appearances at the tournament. The record books suggest there could be some entertaining fare for the fans, as Portugal are the second top scorers in tournament history with 167 goals, and were involved in four of the six highest-scoring matches at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
Player to watch
Potent striker Dejan Stankovic of Switzerland was the outstanding individual at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009, wowing the crowds with the skill and ruthless finishing that helped his side all the way to the final. Four-time winners Brazil proved too strong in the end, but despite the defeat, Stankovic still collected the adidas Golden Ball as best player, and his 16 goals also won him the adidas Golden Boot for the top scorer. If he can reproduce his form from two years ago, the Swiss could well go far in Ravenna.
67 – Portugal superstar Madjer is the all-time leading scorer at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup with 67 goals. He is back again this year, and barring injury, seems all but certain to add to that remarkable total. Come what may, opposing defences cannot say they were not warned.
"When we decided to make wholesale changes to our squad, we knew we’d have to take one step at a time, so our only priority was to qualify for the World Cup. We turned in some tremendous performances in the qualifying tournament, but we’ve still kept our cool. Our focus now is simply to survive the group stage, and our opening match against Oman is of crucial importance," Argentina coach Hector Petrasso.