The last time Portugal were in action, heads were bowed and spirits low as they let the first final of the European Beach Soccer League (EBSL) 2007 slip from their grasp in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy. Their opponents Russia had just pulled off a shock 4-3 triumph to prove beyond any doubt they belong at this level, and both teams now look destined to qualify for the Marseille Superfinal after meeting in the showpiece match of the Portuguese leg in the Algarve town of Portmao.
This time, the hosts held their concentration throughout the entire weekend, eager to obtain a revenge victory that at times appeared ready to pass them by. As in Italy, the Portuguese had the better of the play against their Russian rivals, but the scoreboard told an entirely different story for much of the encounter. Trailing twice, the team featuring two of the weekend's stars in best player Alan and top scorer Madjer had to dig deep to pull themselves back into contention, and they finally went ahead three minutes before the end to win 3-2, Alan netting two of their goals.
"This game wasn't about revenge for me," commented
the Lusitanians' coach afterwards. "It was a question of
honour for us to win this tournament and give our fans something to
cheer about. We put in an excellent performance but we missed too
many chances." Given the sparkling form of Russian
shot-stopper Andrey Bukhlitskiy - once again voted best goalkeeper
- he should perhaps be thankful his charges found the back of the
net at all.
In the match for third place, meanwhile, France and Switzerland thrilled the crowd with a roller-coaster of s tie that refused to swing decisively either way until Thierry Ottavy and Didier Samoun finally put the result beyond doubt. Grabbing a goal apiece in the last four minutes, they earned Eric Cantona's Bleus a 6-4 triumph.
"After the thrashing we received from Portugal (6-1), the
fact we were able to fight hard and ultimately win this game is an
excellent sign," said France striker Laurent Castro. "Now
it's up to us to build on this result in the future, starting
at home next weekend in Tignes. Our goal there will be simple: to
lift the trophy."
Behind those four countries, who seem a comfortable notch above the rest of the field, the competition is sure to be fervent for the last two tickets to the Marseille Superfinal. And of those other teams Italy proved the weekend's biggest disappointment by only managing an under-par seventh place, following their quarter-final penalty shoot-out loss to Switzerland and a lacklustre 7-4 defeat to Spain the very next day. Only a 4-1 victory over the still-winless Czech Republic on Sunday restored a little Azzurri pride.
For their part, European champions Spain had a little more to smile about after re-launching their bid in their neighbours' backyard. Amarelle and Co failed to get past Russia in their first outing, suffering a 4-3 reverse, but they picked themselves up and recorded two straight wins, including a 1-0 triumph over Poland to seal fifth place.
"This tournament has helped us get our confidence back and I think luck will be on our side from now on," smiled Spain's Javi Alvarez after the game. For their part, the Poles managed just a single win, beating the Czechs 7-4, and it remains to be seen whether they have what it takes to bounce back.
Euro Beach Soccer League 2007
Portimao tournament (Portugal)
Thursday 19 July
POR 7-4 CZE
FRA 4-2 POL
ESP 3-4 RUS
ITA 1-1 SUI (2-3 PSO)
Friday 20 July
POR 6-1 FRA (semi-final)
RUS 7-3 SUI (semi-final)
ITA 4-7 ESP (play-off)
CZE 4-7 POL (play-off)
Saturday 21 July
POR 3:2 RUS (Final)
SUI 4:6 FRA (match for 3 rd place)
ESP 1:0 POL (match for 5 th place)
ITA 4:1 CZE (match for 7 th place)
Best player: Alan (POR)
Best goalkeeper: Andrey Bukhlitskiy (RUS)
Top scorer: Madjer (POR), 7 goals
The next tournament takes place in Tignes, France, between 27 and 29 July. The top six teams in the overall ranking of the four EBSL 207 events qualify for the Superfinal in Marseille, where they will compete for the four available tickets to Rio de Janeiro 2007.
The seventh- and eighth-placed sides enter the 'Last Chance' Bracket with the teams from Group B who were eliminated in Athens. The winner of that competition also earns a berth at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.