Life's a beach in Marseille

There is a perennial buzz around Marseille. A diverse, modern city of Mediterranean climate, magnificent scenery and vibrant character, its inhabitants and tourists alike have plenty to smile about.

The atmosphere across the city is that bit extra special at present, though, as sand and football prepare to combine for two weeks of rich entertainment. On Thursday, the fourth edition of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup will get underway and from the serenity of its trendy cafés to the fervency of its parks, the competition is the talk of Marseille.

"The people are very excited, they all come in and talk about it," enthused Gregory, the owner of one of many coffeehouses a stone's throw away from the Prado beach where the tournament will unfold. "Marseille is the home of football in France, so it would be perfect if France won the Beach World Cup in front of the people of Marseille."

It is something El Hachani does not expect to happen. "Portugal will win," he told after taking a break from a kickaround in a local park. "I watched them play here against France last year and they are a very good side." The teenager also revealed his delight that his hometown is hosting the event. "When the World Cup came here in 1998, I was too young. Now I can get to really experience the atmophere."

The competition is enchanting more than just the phocéens, the local term for Marseille's natives. "We came here for a family holiday," revealed Rebecka, who made the trip from Sweden with her husband and two sons. "When we saw the activity around the stadium we went to have a look. The children love football and on the beach it looks even more interesting. Today we were watching the teams train."

Crowds have been gathering over the past few days to watch the participating sides train, among them Alain, a Parisian now living in Marseille. "I went to watch a couple of teams train earlier," he said from a local bar. "It would be nice to see France win but I really just want to see some spectacular goals. Now I can't wait for it to begin."

It is apparent that the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup has assumed the role of chief attraction in the hotbed of attractions that is Marseille.