Sun, sand and goals galore are the essence of beach soccer, and this year's European League Superfinal is proving no exception. After only two days and four games , 39 goals have already been registered, allowing three sides to book their places on Copacabana beach for this November's world showpiece.
It was Poland's turn to smile today as they booked their place in Rio with a dramatic win over Ukraine. Hero of the hour 'Sagan' (Boguslaw Saganowski) and his team-mates are entitled to be proud of their achievement. After all, qualifying for Group A and then winning a European round to reach the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup takes some doing.
"Our entire team has worked hard to achieve this result. I just applied the final touch," declared the modest Polish striker, the best player at the recent Majorcan tournament. "Week after week, we have gone from one incredible experience to another, but nothing can compare with what we are feeling today…"
Their elation must only have been intensified by the manner in which they cemented their qualification. Trailing until 21 seconds from the end of their match against Ukraine, Poland saw 'Sagan' equalise, and then seal the victory with only 14 seconds gone in extra time. In inflicting a second defeat in as many games on Ukraine, the Poles secured their place in Rio, while at the same time ensuring it would be Spain who joined them.
French holders play waiting game
France were for a long time dreaming of a similar reversal of the situation during their encounter with Italy. Trailing 3-0 then 5-3, Les Bleus fought back twice before being edged out by a Carotenuto goal at the end of the final third. Consequently, it is Italy who go through to the Brazilian finals in November.
Despite the support of 5,000 fans, including a certain Michel Platini, Eric Cantona's boys had no antidote to the strike power of the likes of Pasquali (three goals) and Carotenuto (two). This defeat leaves the reigning world champions in a fairly tricky situation, and if they are to qualify for Rio now, they will have to either beat an in-form Portuguese side or win the "Last chance bracket" event taking place over the coming days.
The first round of this potential back door to Rio commences today for the teams from groups B and C of the European League. The winners of these games will be joined tomorrow by those knocked out of the Superfinal, as well as Greece and Switzerland, who finished seventh and eight in Group A.
Ukraine 3 Poland 4 (0-1 a.e.t.)
Italy 6 France 5
1 -. Italy, 3 points (2 matches) *
2 -. Portugal, 2 points (1 match)
3 -. France, 0 point (1 match)
1 -. Spain, 3 points (1 match) *
2 -. Poland, 3 points (1 match) *
3 -. Ukraine, 0 point (2 matches)
* Qualified for the semi-finals and the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006.
The day's programme - Thursday 24 August
Portugal - France (17:45)
Spain - Poland (19:00)
Last chance bracket - Round 1
Netherlands - Montenegro (11:00)
England - Russia (14:00)
Belgium - Czech Republic (15:15)
Germany - Hungary (16:30)