So say the Brazilians: See you in 2006! At the end of the
inaugural FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, one cannot help reflecting
on what a fine first tournament it was. Offering an exceptional
field made up of the best teams on the planet, the competition
turned out to be extremely close. France impressed from start to
finish, Japan were a breath of fresh air, and Brazil accepted the
end of their supremacy with dignity. FIFA.com looks back at this
week under the sun on Copacabana beach.
Despite it being the middle of winter in Brazil, 30°C temperatures in the morning, and 'only' 23°C at night meant the tournament got underway in tropical conditions. Bola 7, the larger than life auriverde supporter, must have been grateful for the shade offered by his sombrero in the morning, as he coordinated the songs and entertainment provided by the warm and friendly Rio public.
In an exceptional atmosphere created by 8,000 fans stirred to fever pitch by every move, the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup offered us a magnificent spectacle. Sport is all about winners and losers, so scenes of sadness and joy followed on from each other in rapid succession, before reaching their explosion at the end of a dramatic final. The face of Portugal's Madjer, caked in a mixture of sand and tears as he mounted the second step of the podium, will live on in the memory for many a long day. The contrast with the joyous French faces could scarcely have been more striking.
Consecration for France
In September 2004, Eric Cantona's France side were crowned European champions after a wonderful final with Portugal. Eight months later, Les Bleus beat the Portuguese on penalties to win the world title. But above and beyond the comparison, most observers will agree that this France side were worthy winners of the competition as a whole. Combining defensive meanness and attacking guile, the Europeans were consistently superior throughout. "We've played France three times in recent months and on each occasion they have made progress," confessed Brazil coach Índio. "Cantona does a magnificent job with his players."
Goalkeeper Jean-Marie Aubry, defenders Thierry Ottavy and Jean-Marc Edouard, Noël Sciortino, and of course Anthony Mendy up front were all on the top of their game. Third in the goalscoring chart and winner of the adidas bronze shoe, the tall Mendy was a threat every time he got the ball. "This is the second time I have come to Rio and this time I'm going back with two trophies. I'm the happiest man alive," he said after the final. At just 22 years of age, Mendy carries the hopes of French beach soccer on his shoulders.
Japan spring a surprise
The future of beach soccer now definitely involves Japan too. After battling to a well-deserved fourth spot, the Asians have earned their place in the upper echelons of the sport. Yet at the start of the competition, Rui Ramos' men were rank outsiders alongside Thailand, South Africa and Australia. One week later, and the Japanese had won over the Brazilian fans with their stylish soccer and gritty determination. Even at the end, when their legs had gone, the Asian side threw every last ounce of energy into the game.
"I have to confess that our fourth spot is a surprise for me too," said Japan's inspirational coach Rui Ramos. "But I have been fighting to develop beach soccer in Japan for years. I hope this performance helps to encourage more interest from the media and our federation. We now need facilities if we are to progress. I'm sure we'll come back stronger next year." That is good news for the fans, who will be able to delight at defender Makino and striker Kawaharazuka, two of the revelations at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2005.
Madjer, best of the best
Other players caught the eye, most notably Portugal's Madjer, who finished best player and top goalscorer (with 12 goals, the same tally he recorded at the last World Championship). His compatriot Alan also shone under the Brazilian sun. His unlikely passes and thunderous free-kicks made the diminutive striker a redoubtable adversary. Defenders Marinho and Hernani were remarkably effective in protecting Zé Miguel too, and the same could be said of the Brazilians Junior Negão and Buru, who provided just the platform for the fleet-footed Neném, Benjamin and Jorginho to go raiding for goals.
Spain fought valiantly but ultimately paid the price of having to qualify for the finals two days before the competition began. Fatigue was a major factor in their elimination, but Amarelle nonetheless excited the crowds with his inimitable acrobatics in front of goal. Ukraine's Pylypenko and Varenytsya gave the South African and Uruguayan defences a torrid time. Pylypenko has a wonderful left foot and used it to great effect to find the back of the night from impossible angles. Varenytsya was at the hub of Ukrainian operations, dictating matters for a side that announced its arrival on the world stage here.
Brazil remain without question the most spectacular side on the planet, but the Auriverde are no longer imperious. France and Portugal proved once again they are major powers in beach soccer, while Japan upset all the odds by reaching the last four. All eyes were on Ukraine after their unexpected third place at the European Championship, and the East Europeans did not disappoint. Victor Moroz's side had pace and power and only fell narrowly to Portugal in the quarter-finals, after holding their own for long periods.
All that is left, then, is to look forward to a mouth-watering second edition of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. France will be back to defend their title, Portugal and Brazil out for revenge. Japan will be hoping to build on their progress, while Ukraine, Uruguay and Spain will be expecting to challenge for the title too. Next year, on beautiful Copacabana beach, the competition promises to be even more exciting.
Brazil, Spain, Thailand, Portugal, USA, Japan, Uruguay, Ukraine, South Africa, France, Argentina, Australia.
164, or 8.2 per match
12 goals: Madjer (POR)
9 goals: Nenem (BRA)
8 goals: Mendy (FRA)