Just over a year after ending his professional career in the English Premiership, Mark Fish sets off on a new adventure next week when he attempts to help South Africa qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2006.
Fish is one of two players from the country's 1996 CAF Africa Cup of Nations Cup winning team who have been included in the squad and he is tremendously excited about the new venture. "I see it as another form of development and although it's something completely different, I think it has great potential in this country," he told FIFA.com. "We have some of the world's finest beaches.
Fish, who is 32-years-old, joins the 40-year-old Mark Williams as the two experienced heads in a youthful squad for the six-team tournament in Durban, which starts on Tuesday, September 26. The top two finishers will go onto represent Africa in Rio de Janeiro in November. South Africa played at the last tournament in January, but this is the first time Africa has organised a preliminary stage.
Fish, who is an ambassador for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ thinks the adaptation to the beach game has been easy, although he admits that the game is 'a bit heavy on the legs.'
"The old knees have to be iced up after training sessions," smiled the former central defender, who also played in Italy's Serie A and at the 1998 FIFA World Cup finals. "But the game does give me a chance to play like I did at the start of my career - all over the place!"
Eager to play their part
Fish and Williams are iconic figures in South African football, playing pivotal parts in the country's only major triumph, the 1996 Cup of Nations title. Fish was an-ever present part of the side and Williams came off the bench to score both goals when South Africa beat Tunisia in the final. "We've had to pick up some tips from our Brazilian coach," continued Fish, "but we are the wise heads among a group of youngsters."
He and his team mates have arrived in Durban to prepare for the event under the tutelage of coach Marcelo Mendez, which sees South Africa meeting Egypt in their first game and then playing against Nigeria. The other group is made up Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire and Morocco with the top two sides going through to the semi-final on September 29. These games will determine the two representatives for the trip to Brazil in November.
Contributing to possible South Africa success fits in smoothly with Fish's new career plans, rolling out development courses around the country. "We are looking to get a lot of the old professionals involved in this too," he added.