Beautiful weather, pretty girls and spectacular goals: the crowds at Marseille's summer stadium on Prado beach enjoyed a day to remember on this last Saturday in August .
As well as deciding the European champions for this year, Sunday's Superfinal should also be a feast of top-class beach soccer served up by the two most talented teams on the continent. For while Italy and Poland have come on enormously this season, Spain and Portugal remain a cut above the rest.
Inspired by a rampaging Nico (three goals), the Spaniards offered the Marseilles crowd a display of sublime beauty. In the face of the physical duel imposed by the Azzurri, Joaquin Alonso's charges responded with passing moves that were always slick and often spectacular. While the final score may seem relatively close (5-3), it fails to reflect the degree of dominance enjoyed by the quarter-finalists from Rio de Janeiro 2005 until they slackened their grip somewhat during the game's final third.
In the day's other semi-final, Portugal adopted a completely different strategy to deal with surprise package Poland. After showing caution during the opening third (1-0) - even Madjer operated as a defender - the Iberians quickly netted their second and, six goals later, they had qualified as expected for the Superfinal (8-3).
France hold their nerve
But while the Superfinal showdown will settle the symbolic issue of the identity of Europe's top side, the other final taking place on Sunday possesses tangible significance for the two sides taking part. For when the final whistle blows, the recipients of the last ticket for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006 will have been decided.
But this back door route to Rio will not be available to Ukraine, the solid outfit who finished third in the European League this season. Against the Swiss, who came bottom of the same table, Pylypenko and his cohorts were surprisingly nervous and imprecise. Soon trailing by 2 goals to nil, the Ukrainians proceeded to vent all of their frustration (two yellow cards, a blue and a red) before slipping to a heavy defeat (4-0).
And so the Swiss roll on. "It's good to see my lads know how to play as a unit when the need arises," commented the Helvetian coach Angelo Schrinzi. "Sunday's final is the type of match the players love and there's no reason why we shouldn't give a good account of ourselves." Knocked out of the European qualifiers last year only two days before the start of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, the Swiss will be doubly motivated to make it to Rio de Janeiro this time around.
But against reigning world champions France, they will have their work cut out for them. After a disappointing European League season and an even more unpalatable exit from the Superfinal on home soil in Marseilles, les Bleus had no real problems seeing off the highly physical Montenegrins (6-3). Thanks to some clever coaching on the part of Eric Cantona, the French never looked in difficultly and displayed a knack for getting goals at key moments. Now they need to confirm this return to form by ensuring they get the chance to defend their world crown this November in Rio.
Superfinal - Semi-finalists
Spain 5 Italy 3
Portugal 8 Poland 3
Last chance bracket - Semi-finals
Ukraine 0 Switzerland 4
France 6 Montenegro 3
Day's programme - Sunday 27 August
Superfinal - Finals
3rd place: Poland - Italy (13:15)
Spain - Portugal (15:45)
Last chance bracket - Final
Switzerland - France (14:30)
The winner of the last chance bracket event will qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006.