African octet target Marseille trip

Durban has staged African Zone qualifying to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup for the last three years. And once again, the continent's elite will gather on the South African city's radiant gold sand this month to do battle for two tickets to Marseille, where the world finals will take place from 17 to 27 July.

For a second consecutive year, the African preliminaries will be the first of the continental qualifiers, with the same eight teams as last year trying to secure their presence on the world stage.

Last year's finalists, Nigeria and Senegal, went on to perform admirably at Rio de Janeiro 2007. The pair won their respective groups before bowing out in the quarter-finals against beach soccer heavyweights France and Uruguay. Nevertheless, they succeeded in making the watching world sit up and take notice.

The key to Nigeria's run was the absence of one standout. Their gameplan, instead, revolved around a solid team effort, with defenders Ogbonnaya Okemmiri and Uga Okpara sharing the scoring duties with frontrunner Isiaka Olawale. They proved a difficult side to defend against and the top teams struggled to contain the Nigerians' attack.

Senegal used Pape Koupaki as their target man up front, and he was hugely effective with seven goals from his four matches on the Copacabana. Following their exploits in Rio, the Senegalese will enter the Marseille 2008 qualifiers as favourites to top Group A.

However, this could suit South Africa, who have gone into the previous two tournaments as pool favourites and may revel in the role of the underdog. The final group match between Egypt and South Africa could potentially decide who grabs the second play-off spot from the group, although Mozambique will have other ideas.

Nigeria, for their part, will have to be at their best to overcome Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon in Group B, while outsiders Cape Verde will be hoping to spring an upset.

The top two teams from each section qualify for the last four, with the two semi-final winners qualifying for this year's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Marseille.

Qualifier Calendar

African Zone qualifying
25-30 March (Durban, South Africa)

CONCACAF Zone qualifying
16-20 April (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico)

South American Zone qualifying
23-27 April (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Asian Zone qualifying
6-10 May (Dubai, UAE)

European Zone qualifying
13-18 May, (Benidorm, Spain)