Russia

The past
Since making their FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup debut at Rio 2007, Russia have been Europe’s go-getters, taking giant strides to break into the Old Continent’s elite. At Marseille 2008 the Russians were thwarted in the quarter-finals by eventual champions Brazil, whereas at the same stage in 2009 in Dubai, an emerging Swiss side proved their undoing in a hard-fought contest that went right to the wire.

The present
In qualification for Ravenna 2011, Russia steamrollered a path to the semi-finals where they lost by the odd goal to a Portugal team inspired by the irrepressible Madjer. Having savaged Slovakia and Andorra in their opening two matches, the eastern Europeans then conceded an inconsequential loss to Romania before toying with Turkey in the round of 16. Their ticket to the global showdown was sealed with an 8-4 quarter-final triumph over Spain, in a titanic battle that earned them the moniker “soldiers of the sand.”

The future
Having reached the quarter-finals last time around, Russia will not be content with a similar placing this year, eager to confirm their tag as the new continental superpower. Mikhail Likhachev’s men aim to reach at least the semi-finals, a realistic target considering the unstoppable form of talismanic skipper Ilya Leonov, who was named best player for the second time in the qualifying tournament for Ravenna/Italy 2011.

Former stars
Vladimir Pavlikov, Ildar Aliev, Alexey Makarov

Key players
Ilya Leonov, Dmitry Shishin, Andrey Bukhlitskiy

Qualifying statistics
In four victories and two defeats on the road to Ravenna, Russia showcased their lethal attacking prowess by firing in 54 goals, 17 more than tournament winners Ukraine.

The numbers game
11 - The number of goals netted by the Russians in three of their qualifiers ahead of Ravenna/Italy 2011, against Slovakia, Andorra and Turkey.