"When we began our involvement in the discipline, the idea of the World Cup leaving Brazil was more than a goal - it was a dream. I'm very proud today that this dream is coming true. It proves that this sport continues to grow."
A few moments before announcing the host city for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2008, FIFA Futsal and Beach Soccer Committee member Joan Cusco could hardly contain his emotion. Both he and his audience were keenly aware that 26 August 2007 will go down as an historic date for the discipline - and for the city of Marseilles.
Chosen by FIFA to hold next year's event, the bustling French port can look forward to swaying to the rhythms of the most exciting beach soccer nations on earth.
"It's an honour for the whole of the French Football Federation (FFF)," declared FFF President Jean-Pierre Escalettes. "This decision repays the faith of everyone who has believed in the discipline over the last few years. I would like to pay homage first of all to the Cantona brothers, Eric and Joel, who have been true pioneers. And I would also like to thank the authorities of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region, the Bouches-du-Rhone department and, of course, the city of Marseilles itself for their involvement. We'll do everything we can to give the world a great tournament. We'll pull out all the stops, as we say here."
Although competition was fierce right up until the end, Marseilles seems a logical choice for all concerned. Over the past six years, the sands of Gaston-Defferre (or 'Prado') beach have successfully played host to the European league's Superfinal. It is a competition lasting six day's in total, just four days shorter than the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup itself, and the continent's best sides have always received a warm welcome from the capacity crowds packed into the 4,500-seater venue. Nobody doubts that Marseilles is ready to put on a marvellous show, and with the stadium due to hold 8,500 spectators come next July, the event will buzz with a passion unique to the city's football-mad locals.
"We worked very hard to be awarded the right to organise this tournament," explained Joel Cantona, French team manager and Supefinal promoter. "My emotions right now are even stronger then when we won the World Cup in 2005. This is a big step for beach soccer and I'm certain that in two or thee year's time it's going to be a major sport."
A few years ago, only Brazil appeared capable of organising a beach soccer event of this magnitude, with consistently impressive crowds that broke records in the discipline. This time around, six countries put themselves forward as candidates to host either 2008 or 2009 editions, and after Marseilles it will be the turn of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to welcome the world's best.
For now, though, all the talk is of Marseilles and, beyond their obvious joy, the French delegation are also coming to terms with the duties that accompany this honour. "This is an extraordinary reward for our involvement but it's now that everything starts," Les Bleus coach Eric Cantona told FIFA.com. "From now on, everything we do will be dictated by the 2008 World Cup. I won't hesitate for a second to give younger players some playing time so that they'll be ready by next July. We won the first official tournament organised by FIFA in 2005 and now we're to host the first edition to be held outside of Brazil. We have to give a good account of ourselves - and even aim for the title!"
Exactly ten years after another FIFA World Cup™ touched down on French soil, the hosts are more than likely to have their say in who leaves with the global crown. But whoever wins, the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Marseilles 2008 already looks destined to be a fantastic occasion.