Sea, sand and snow!
© AFP

There might have been snow in parts of South Africa over the past few weeks, but such freezing thoughts will be forgotten when the African qualifying tournament for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, which starts on Tuesday 3 July.

For a second successive year, the qualifying competition will be played on the beaches of the coastal tourist city of Durban, also one of the host cities for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals.

But unlike last year, the list of competitors for the event has been increased from six to eight countries, with all of them battling it out for the two African berths available at November's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

The Durban tournament is the first of the continental qualifiers for Rio with both Cameroon and Nigeria, who played at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup last year, hoping to secure another appearance at the prestigious event.

Both sides, however, have been drawn in the same group, along with a traditionally strong Egyptian side and debutants Senegal.

Indeed, Cameroon play Nigeria in their Group B tie on Thursday, ensuring this year's tournaments starts where last year's event left off.

The pairing of the two favourites in Group B is a big fillip for hosts South Africa, who were Africa's representatives at the first-ever FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2005 but turned in a series of disappointing performances at the qualifiers last year.

Their side is again being led by Mark Williams, a former striker with RWD Molenbeek in Belgium and England's Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, he is better known in his home country for scoring both goals when South Africa beat Tunisia in the final of the 1996 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Johannesburg.

South Africa start their Group A campaign on Tuesday against Côte d'Ivoire, who beat them in Durban last year. The group also includes the Cape Verde Islands and Mozambique. The two Portuguese speaking countries are also making their debuts on the international Beach Soccer stage.

Morocco are the side who do not return from last year's event, meaning there are three newcomers and five returnees for the second-ever African qualifying tournament.

Cameroon will be the slight favourites given their performance in Rio last year where they beat eventual finalists Uruguay in the opening round of the competition. Nigeria also missed out on a quarter-final appearance by the narrowest of margins, losing in a penalty shoot-out against Bahrain.

All teams play on the opening day on Tuesday, followed by more group matches on Wednesday and Thursday. The key semi-finals will be on Saturday and final takes place on Sunday.