Spain reign in Europe

After being crowned European champions in 2006, Spain then went through a quiet patch. They were knocked out in the first round at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2006, fell in the quarter-finals in 2007 and even lost to Russia in the third-place match at the last European championship. It was time for Joaquin Alonso's men to start making up for lost time, and they did just that on home sand during the European qualifying tournament for Marseille 2008.

At the coastal resort of Benidorm, Amarelle (voted the tournament's best player) and his team-mates proved they are still one of the continent's beach soccer powerhouses. After brushing aside Germany, Belarus and Romania in the first round, Spain beat Norway 6-3 in the Round of 16, Czech Republic 7-1 in the quarter-finals, Italy in the semis (4-3 on penalties after a 3-3 draw) and then Portugal 4-3 in the final. After the early festival of goals, the later rounds were much tighter, which brought the Spaniards' character to the fore.

Portugal had the best attack of the tournament (scoring 45 goals in seven matches) and have a squad packed with talent, but they will have to toughen up mentally in big matches if they are to play a major role at July's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Marseille. The same applies to Russia and Italy, who fought out a tough battle for third place, Nikolai Pisarev's team finally securing a podium finish courtesy of a 4-2 win.

Russia still have a seemingly impenetrable defence and of course the flamboyant Andrey Bukhlitskiy in goal, but up front they lack a reliable marksman. The biggest problem for the Azzurri, meanwhile, is a lack of concentration at vital moments. In the semi-final against Spain, for example, the Italians were 3-1 up with only three minutes to go but ended up conceding two late goals and losing on penalties.


European qualifiers for Marseille 2008

11 to 18 May 2008

1: Spain
2: Portugal
3: Russia
4: Italy

Best player: Amarelle (ESP)
Top scorer: Dejan Stankovic (SUI, 16 goals)
Best goalkeeper: Roberto (ESP)
Fair play award: Madjer (POR)