The leading lights of South American beach soccer have descended on Argentina this week to do battle for the region's three allotted berths at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup to be held between 17-27 July in Marseille. Taking centre stage in Buenos Aires will be reigning world champions Brazil, who will be taking the first steps towards what they hope will be a successful defence of their crown in France.
The qualifying games will take place between 23-27 April on a specially prepared pitch at Obras Sanitarias' Sports Hall in Buenos Aires. Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and Peru make up Group A, while Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay form Group B. The top two from each section advance to the semi-finals, the winners of which will be guaranteed a berth in Marseille regardless of the outcome of the final. The two losing semi-finalists will then play off for the final berth.
In addition to the Brazilians, winners of the last two FIFA World Cups, the countries expected to complete the podium in Buenos Aires are Uruguay, runners-up in 2006 and third last year, and hosts Argentina. The trio have appeared in all three of the FIFA World Cups held to date.
Asked about his team's preparations for the qualifiers, Uruguay goalkeeper and captain Diego had this to say: "We're in good form and are very hopeful of winning a berth in Marseille. We've prepared well, but the pressure on us has clearly increased after our achievements at recent World Cups. It's hard to keep on doing that; teams get to know you, although they also respect you. Still, it's a good situation to be in."
For his part, Albiceleste coach Hector Petrasso summed up what the tournament would mean to his compatriots, without losing sight of his team's ultimate objective: "It will be very significant in terms of the growth of the sport in this country, and hopefully we can do our bit in terms of results. We're certainly confident we'll play a major part in proceedings."