Spain had to work hard to qualify for their third consecutive FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, with coach Joaquin Alonso continuing to rebuild his side around twin pillars Nico and Amarelle.

The departure of the country's former No1 Roberto, one of the best beach soccer goalkeepers around, was always going to pose a problem for the Spanish, but Dona has filled the void admirably and is proving himself a worthy successor. Young guns Ivan Rumbo and Juanma have also shown that there is plenty of quality coming through the ranks.

Beach soccer really took off in Spain in 1997, and it was not long before the national team began to dominate, winning the European title in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003. However, in the next two editions, the Iberians' hegemony slipped as they finished a disappointing fifth twice running.

Coach Alonso stayed the course, however, and eventually brought an end to this era of uncertainty and poor results. After overhauling the side, he gradually began to see the fruits of his player development programme and a more professional and structured training system, and was rewarded with victory at the 2006 European Championship.

Spain may not have managed to retain their continental title this year, but they have impressed many with their progress game on game. The challenge now will be to take this improved form into the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup this November, where Group B rivals USA, Portugal and Iran are certain to provide a stern test.

Qualification

As reigning European champions, Spain began the year with several key players injured, a factor that contributed to their poor early-season form. None the less, the team's performances improved during the year's tournaments, enabling them to secure sufficient points for a place at the Superfinal in Marseille.

The season's revelation, Russia, and a battling Switzerland side were their rivals in Group A. After prevailing in a penalty shoot-out following an amazing 7-7 draw with Russia in their opening game, Spain recorded a convincing 7-3 win over the Swiss to seal their place at Rio de Janeiro 2007.

With their primary objective accomplished, Alonso's side set about securing a place in the final, only to fall agonisingly short in an exciting 6-5 semi-final loss to an experienced Portugal team. Russia then denied them the bronze with a 6-3 win in the match for third place - a result that avenged their group stage defeat by the Spaniards.

Coach

Joaquin Alonso was an accomplished player in his time, spending 18 seasons at Sporting de Gijon, where his strong physique, elegance and vision made him a firm favourite. He also won 18 international caps with the national team, participating at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ and the 1980 Men's Olympic Football Tournament in Moscow.

After hanging up his boots in 1992, Alonso stayed involved with professional football, initially as a players' agent. His interest then turned to beach soccer and, after spending five years with the national team, he made the transition from player to coach in 2001, going on to lead La Selección to three European titles. Now 51, the coach travels to Rio for his third tilt at the hitherto elusive world title.

Player to watch

Despite all the new faces in the team in recent years, its talisman and goalscorer-in-chief remains unchanged. Ramiro Figueiras Amarelle, a left-footed striker of sublime technique, showed he can still compete with the best of them by finishing joint top-scorer with Dejan Stankovic at the Superfinal in Marseille (24 goals).

The La Coruna-born player will be appearing at his third FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, where he will line up alongside veteran defender Nico. Alonso describes them as "the best players in Europe" and their experience will be vital if Spain's many young players are to continue their progress in Rio.

What they said

Our objective now is to obtain the necessary human, material and economic resources to prepare adequately. We've been drawn in a tough group and our rivals have been preparing themselves very well. We're going there with very high hopes and the intention of getting past the group phase. Once I run out on the pitch, all I think about is winning. First, though, we have to prepare well - Ramiro Amarelle, Spain captain