Under the stewardship of Alexandre Soares, Brazil's irresistible pool of entertainers have already won two titles on the sand in 2006. But unless they complete a hat-trick by claiming gold at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup next month, the year will go down as a failure. It's a consequence of the Seleção's status as the most successful and revered side in the world. Regardless, the hosts are taking nothing for granted ahead of Rio de Janeiro 2006. Since FIFA's adoption of the tournament in 2005, the sport's popularity has exploded, compelling sides across the globe to take strides forward. They certainly have, as Brazil discovered last year when losing out to Portugal on penalties in the semi-finals. A similar slip-up will not be tolerated by the country's peerlessly demanding supporters.
New coach Soares gathered his troops together well in advance of the South American Beach Soccer Championship in March, which served as a qualifier to the 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. As hosts, Brazil had already been assured of their place in the latter, but the continental tournament was to serve as ideal preparation. Soares' foresight in setting up camp early paid dividends as Brazil radiated from start to finish, opening up with a 15-2 rout of Venezuela and overcoming Paraguay, Peru, Argentina, and Uruguay en route to the semi-finals. Thereafter, Brazil eliminated Venezuela - this time 15-1 - to reach to the Final, before outclassing Uruguay 9-2 to lift the trophy.
As the Brazilians celebrated their triumph on the Macaé oceanfront, their attentions had already turned to ending the year in style. "We've been training together for more than two months and the harmony is better than ever," explained leading marksman Jorginho. "Now we want to become champions of the world again. The squad is already thinking about November."
However, before 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup got underway, Brazil faced an even stiffer challenge. Indeed, the eleventh edition of the Mundialito took place on foreign shores in August and comprised Rio de Janeiro 2005 semi-finalists Japan and Portugal. Rather than pick a full-strength squad, Soares opted to omit a couple of his leading lights, most conspicuously Jorginho and the brilliant Júnior Negão. "I already know what they can do," reasoned the tactician. "The most important thing for us right now is to assess some of the younger players and come up with the best possible squad to play at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in November."
All or nothing
The 2006 Mundialito proved to be a dry run that Brazil passed with flying colours. With captain Buru at the forefront and attacker Bruno using his silky skills and ability to improvise to punish opponents, they comfortably defeated both England and Japan, 9-2 and 12-1 respectively, before scraping past Argentina to book a place in the Final. Portugal, the competition hosts, were hopeful of a second successive reverse of their more illustrious adversaries, but Brazil defended resolutely and goals from Sidney (2) and Bruno sealed a 3-1 triumph. "After losing the World Cup semi-final to Portugal in 2005, we were deeply focused on avenging the loss," admitted Buru. "Now we hope to get the strongest team possible together and conquer the title at home in November. This is another step in this direction."
Last week Soares named his squad to take on the world on the iconic Copacabana beach, and although there was no place for Jorginho, the presence of Benjamin, Bruno, André, Júnior Negão and Sidney will ensure that Brazil are not lacking in the firepower department. The group quickly assembled in Espírito Santo, where they will put the finishing touches to their preparations before crossing state to Rio de Janeiro on 31 October. "This period will be important to adjust the final technical and tactical details. The expectancy is the highest possible. I believe in the potential that this squad has and we are ready to fight for the title that eluded us last year," affirmed Soares.
Following an encouraging double conquest, confidence is high that Brazil possess the tools to re-establish themselves as the untouchable kings of the sands. It's simply all or nothing for Soares and his charges.