Russians romp home in mountains

If it was not obvious already, it is now: Russia must be counted among the elite sides of European beach soccer, mentioned in the same breath as the very best. After two successive EBSL (European Beach Soccer League) 2007 final appearances and one victory, any lingering doubts were removed this weekend in Tignes, high in the French Alps.

For once it was not Portugal the Eastern Europeans had to contend with but their hosts, and, playing on Europe's most elevated beach at 2000m above sea-level, they secured victory with a 5-4 win that left the French nursing serious regrets.

"Having made it to three finals in three tournaments, it's clear now that we're no longer a surprise package," declared Russian coach Nikolay Pisarev after his team's latest performance. "From now on, we'll be starting each tournament as favourites, but once the six Superfinal teams have been decided there will be a lot of work to do before we can dream about the World Cup. It's true that our confidence keeps growing, but we'll never let our motivation slip."

Hoping to please the home crowd in the weekend's showpiece match, Eric Cantona's eager Bleus played the ball wide as much as possible, and it was a tactic that proved inspired against their opponents' well-organised but static defence. In the end, though, two farcical goals wiped out all the good work put in by Jean-Marc Edouard and the rest of his team-mates.

"After our game against the Russians in San Benedetto (1-4), we knew this final would be very difficult," the French captain told FIFA.com. "We missed a whole host of chances and against Russia you just can't do that. They're a tenacious side and have an excellent goalkeeper (Andrey Bukhlitskiy, again voted best in the competition). Their success is well-deserved."

Despite the loss, the French can console themselves with having booked a ticket to the Superfinal in Marseille, along with Russia, Switzerland and Portugal. Like the Russians, the Swiss produced further evidence of their own progress by finishing fourth, thanks in large part to the tournament's best player, striker Dejan Stankovic. Ultimately, they were denied a place on the podium by Spain, whose 4-3 triumph in the match for third signalled a return to form.

In contrast, their Iberian neighbours Portugal proved the weekend's biggest disappointment. Perhaps overconfident after their home win in Portimao last week, Ze Miguel's men could only manage a sixth-place finish and a solitary win over Italy (8-7). One spot higher, Poland kept up the level of play that earned them third place last time out, while the Azzurri bounced back from a 4-1 quarter-final loss to Russia by easing past Czech Republic 11-2.

As a result, the action is sure to be intense on the beaches of Majorca next week when Spain, Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic compete for the last two Superfinal berths. The equation is simple: if the Spaniards lose their quarter-final to the Czechs, anything could happen. If they win, however, Amarelle and company will be on their way to Marseille, where they will be joined by the victor of the last eight confrontation between Poland and Italy.


Euro Beach Soccer League 2007
Tignes tournament (France)

Friday, 27 July
Portugal 7-8 Switzerland
Italy 1-4 Russia
Spain 3-2 Poland
France 4-2 Czech Republic

Saturday, 28 July
Portugal 8-6 Italy (playoff)
Poland 6-4 Czech Republic (playoff)
Switzerland 4-5 Russia (semi-final)
Spain 2-5 France (semi-final)

Sunday, 29 July
Italy 11-2 Czech Republic (match for 7th place)
Portugal 6-7 Poland a.e.t. (match for 5th place)
Switzerland 3-4 Spain (match for 3rd place)
France 4-5 Russia (final)

Best player: Dejan Stankovic (Switzerland)
Best goalkeeper: Andrey Bukhlitskiy (Russia)
Top scorer: Madjer (Portugal), 10 goals

Standings
1 - Russia, 28 points *
2 - Portugal, 22 pts *
3 - France, 20 pts *
4 - Switzerland, 19 pts *
5 - Spain, 13 pts
6 - Poland, 12 pts
7 - Italy, 12 pts
8 - Czech Republic, 6 pts

The next tournament takes place in Majorca, Spain, between 3 and 5 August. The top six teams in the overall ranking of the four EBSL 2007 events qualify for the Superfinal in Marseille, where they will compete for four tickets to Rio de Janeiro 2007. Teams marked with an asterisk (*) have already qualified for the Superfinal.

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 later this year.