The beaches of Durban in South Africa will this week witness the first-ever African Beach Soccer Championship. 

The choice of venue does not require a great deal of explanation, with Durban's sensational weather - more than 320 sunny days a year - complemented for a genuine passion for football, with the city playing host to two professional football teams, Manning Rangers and Zulu Royals.
 
The remote coastal city was also a natural base given that the city has a sponsored beach soccer league, and that the thousands of kilometres of pristine shoreline that spread out on either side provides most of the South African squad.
 
As if that wasn't enough to guarantee a healthy local support, there will also be the presence in an otherwise youthful home team two South African football legends, Mark Fish and Mark Williams, both of whom were part of the country's only major triumph in the beautiful game to date, the 1996 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
 
Enthusiasm is growing, but Abdelmonem Hussien, Head of the CAF Development Department, admitted that Africa has thus far been slow to wake up to the appeal of beach soccer.
 
"It is like our new baby," the Sudanese told FIFA.com. "To us it will be very refreshing and stimulating to see African nations competing against each other in a game that is completely novel to most of them.
 
"Maybe it will take us a while to actually reach world standards in the game but it is not too late for us."

Africa were represented at the first-ever FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup last year in Rio by South Africa, who were invited to enter the tournament as their continent's sole representatives and departed having slumped to two successive defeats, 7-3 and 8-1 to Uruguay and Ukraine respectively.
 
Despite those poor results, the experience gained by the South Africans in their brush with the world's elite has proved priceless and, with a Brazilian beach soccer expert, Marcelo Mendez, currently at the helm, the hosts are likely to have the edge over their five fellow competitors when the tournament starts on 26 September.
 
South Africa will meet Egypt in their opening game and then face a further test against Nigeria. The other group is made up of Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Morocco, with the top two sides from both going through to the semi-finals on 29 September. These games will determine the two representatives for the trip to Brazil in November for the second FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. 

From the futsal pitch to the beach
Some of the participant teams have made no secret of the fact that they have been brought together in haste, and don't be too surprised to see some of them a little unsure of the beach soccer-specific rules in Durban.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, there are teams who have prepared thoroughly for the tournament, including Egypt, who included two players from the side that finished fifth in the FIFA Futsal World Championship in Guatemala six years ago.
 
One of them, Wael Abdel Mawla, told FIFA.com: "It is very exciting to be here, however I should point out that this game is something completely different from futsal."
 
Mawla, Egypt's captain, has been involved in a three-month preparation camp for this tournament, and he highlighted the fact that Durban should revive some of good memories of his introduction to futsal in Guatemala.
 
"In Guatemala, we were also kind of new to the game and, like now, we had to play while we were fasting. But we were able to achieve some great results," he reminisced.
 
Mawla's mention of fasting refers, of course, to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which started this week and will ensure that the North Africans' representatives face an additional physical hurdle to overcome.
 
"In Guatemala it was tough," he recalled, "but considering the kind of effort needed in this game, where the physical element is very great, I think we will be facing an even tougher challenge."
 
With the presence of some big names participating in this newly-introduced game to the continent, South Africa will certainly be looking forward to giving this competition a warm welcome and spreading enthusiasm about beach soccer throughout Africa.