"Of course that's a blow for us because Morgan Plata is a great player," said Mexico coach Ramon Raya, after hearing his star forward would be unavailable for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Marseille 2008. "But on the other hand I'm very pleased to see him signed up by a [11-a-side] football team, and I'd feel the same about the other players who are looking for clubs."
Less than a month later, Raya's words rang painfully true after El Tri Playero bowed out of this year's elite event on the back of just one victory, 4-3 over Japan, and two defeats, 2-1 and 7-1 against Spain and Brazil respectively. With Plata in the team at Rio de Janeiro 2007, the Mexicans had gone all the way to the final, the livewire forward picking up the adidas Bronze Ball and adidas Silver Shoe in the process. But was Plata's move to Culiacan outfit Dorados, in Mexico's second tier, the sole cause of their early elimination?
"We were lacking the necessary experience and talent to compete with teams as strong as Spain or Brazil," was attacker Ricardo Villalobos's stark assessment after his team's defeat by the Seleção. And of equal importance was the loss of the element of surprise that caught opponents unawares en route to the tournament decider in Rio de Janeiro, while Plata's brilliance in front of goal and the vision of Francisco Cati at the back were also sorely missed.
"Some of my players were playing in their first ever beach soccer tournament, so I can't reproach them. All that's left to do now is to work even harder to come back stronger next year," Raya told FIFA.com.
The respected coach can certainly take some positives from this disappointment in Marseille. Keeper Miguel Estrada underlined his status as one of the best in the game, skipper Jose Luis Navarrete led the side with distinction and forward Ivan Medina showed he is one for the future. If Raya can keep the core of this year's squad together, their next FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup campaign could be a very different story.